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How do weather balloons work?

How do weather balloons work?
How do weather balloons work? 02:17

By Joseph Dames

MINNEAPOLIS -- The National Weather Service in Kansas City shared images Friday of a balloon in the sky over Missouri. It comes after earlier sightings over Montana. 

China now says it's a "weather balloon" that veered off course. The U.S. military believes otherwise.

The military has not shot it down saying it could pose a danger to people on the ground. They say since it's flying at 60,000 feet, it's unlikely to interrupt air traffic or commercial flights.

MORE: Suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting over U.S. has surveillance part as big as multiple school buses

But launching weather balloons in the United States has been going on since the late 1930s. However, those balloons don't make it very far.

We know what a balloon looks like up in the sky, but how does it get there?

A couple of times a day, meteorologists send up a balloon that helps with the upper-air analysis. It's a latex balloon filled with hydrogen or helium.

As it goes up into the sky, the instrument that is attached will gauge all of the conditions.

Once that balloon reaches a certain point, it bursts. Then that instrument falls down to the surface attached to a parachute that can be recovered later.

So how far do these actual balloons go?

A weather balloon from the NWS Twin Cities Office typically travels 80 to 200 miles. 

Today, Friday morning, that weather balloon ended up in Northeast Iowa. Usually, somewhere in Wisconsin or Minnesota is the final destination.

These instruments just are meant to travel very far. Flights can last up to two hours before that balloon pops. 

They can reach up to 20 miles above ground, traveling at 1,000 feet a minute.

The National Weather Service now has 92 sites where balloons are launched each day. In Minnesota, they're released both in Chanhassen and International Falls.

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