shredded long distance helium balloons

A thread in this forum provokes me to ask this question. As a long time science teacher, over the years my students sent up hundreds of helium balloons to track wind, experiement with launch variables, etc. Often, when someone would respond to our questions, on attached postcards, they would be so kind as to return the remnants of the helium balloons in their letters. Most of the time, all that was left was the nub of the neck, the string tied around it, and a few inches of shredded rubber, looking like latex fringe. We often speculated on what might have caused such a condition - bursting at high altitudes, drifting for hours and hours through polluted air, etc. But I never knew for sure. Do any of you dopers have any reason to suspect any cause in particular? I’ll be watching.

my wag would be the helium would slowly leak out and the ballon would come down to ground level. The wind would blow it around and shread it.

Nope. But thank you very much for playing. See, the thing is, you’ve never seen a helium balloon that looked like this, and many of them get blown around on the ground. No - this was like a more or less even fringe of rubber, hanging from the nub. Something’s happening to them up there, I tell ya! And I don’t like the looks of things, Cap’n.

Ok, Mr. Science, it’s not ground erosion.

How about this? At what temperature does the balloon material (latex?) freeze solid? I know you can freeze one by dipping it into liquid nitrogen, but presumably that’s somewhat overkill. Mayby it freezes at high altitude and shatters?

My WAG, anyway.

This strikes me as a uniquely ineffective way to encourage other respondants.

If that’s not enough encouragement, don’t do it again anyway.

I respectfully disagree Manny. The “BZZZZZ” response is both humorous and lighthearted (Think Dead Poet’s Society, or any number of game shows). It ain’t all that creative, I grant you, since I’ve seen, heard, and used it many times myself. But it isn’t intended to be any more rude than the Robin Williams character meant it to be.

'Course your the moderator…and I just lurk more than anything else.

Ummm, they’re popping? Unless I’m missing something, you’re basically describing any popped balloon, and if so, I don’t see what the big mystery is.

I think you’d better listen to what the moderators tell you!

Anyway, as balloons go higher up, the air pressure drops and the balloon inflates even more. Eventually it would burst.

I think you and your students need to do an experiment. Just keep inflating a few of those balloon still they burst, and see if the results look like the recovered remains. If it does, that’s a good indication the balloons burst. It’d also be neat to see how large they can get before they burst. If you know how large they can stretch, you could even calculate what altitude they are capable of reaching. When doing such a calculation, remember that temperature drops at higher altitudes. You have to look up the temperature vs. altitude change. You could even look up wind speed and direction at that altitude and see if they are consistent with where and when the balloons were recovered.

Hell, if I were Manhattan, I’d ban you just for calling me “Manny”.