What If You Inflated and Popped a Balloon the Size of Earth?
A deep, deep orange sunset...epic. You’re on the deck of a cruise liner somewhere in the Atlantic, the sun dips slowly, merging with the water on the horizon. Next to it, you can see another circle. It’s huge!
It looks more like a new planet or a second sun, but this sphere’s located on Earth. It’s a balloon. Humans have been inflating if for months, and in just a few weeks, it’ll be the size of our planet.
Nobody knows who exactly came up with this crazy idea. Probably somebody from Bright Side. It’s the year 2121, people live longer and have better lives. At some point they start to come up with weird and wacky things, not just useful ones.
“Let’s make a lake with boiling oil where we can fry potatoes 24/7”, or “What if we build a huge frozen city, just for penguins?” Someone suggests creating a machine that can put your consciousness into a shark or a goldfish, whatever sea creature you want...just to see what it’d feel like. A couple of guys even decide to make the switch permanent. Sounds fishy to me.
People discover more of outer space, and create incredible life-changing medical tech. But sometimes, humanity just wants to have fun. One day, a scientist decides to inflate a balloon the size of our planet, and pop it...just to see what’d happen. People are excited, it would definitely look awesome, and the pop would be insane! These kinds of strange ideas pop up all the time these days.
The economy, tech, agriculture...everything’s developed so much! That means there’s plenty of money lying around to spend on whatever’s the weirdest idea at the time. The main thing now, is to do stuff that’s fun. And as soon as this idea comes up, billionaires around the world start throwing money at it. Who wouldn’t want their name associated with just about the coolest project ever!
On what looks like any normal day, scientists gather in an underground lab to talk materials. Why an underground lab? Because it’s awesome. After 10 minutes, it becomes clear that there’s no substance in the world that could stretch that much, so they decide to create one: Perpetual Rubber!
They come up with a sweet plan, they can’t just build a deflated balloon the size of a continent, and then slowly inflate it. That would be ridiculous. Wait, are there magnitudes of ridiculous? It’s getting pretty high here. Instead, scientists decide to make a ball of rubber, about the size of an SUV. Then, over the course of a whole year, they’d blow a strong stream of air into it, until it was the size of Earth!
Perpetual Rubber can stretch forever, and never tears! The rubber reacts with oxygen to divide and expand, without getting popped too early! How lame would it be if it got snagged on a skyscraper and popped! The coolest thing about Perpetual Rubber, is that if you hit it with a pencil or fork or whatever, it won’t tear. It’ll actually envelop whatever you push into it! If we’re talking about something bigger, like a car or a ship, it’ll be a sort of bumper-car situation. A little impact, but no biggie.
Finally, months of hard work and 300 billion dollars later...scientists unveil their masterpiece. And it kinda looks like a car sized rock. Except it’s orange for some reason, don’t ask me why. The experiment begins in the most remote part of the Pacific Ocean, on an artificially created island!
Here’s where it gets more ridiculous, wait, I mean interesting. While half the scientists were messing around with rubber, the other half were busy building the world’s biggest turbine, a turbine strong enough to pump air into the largest balloon of all time!
The turbine extracts oxygen out of the...well, air... heats it, and pushes it into the ball of rubber. Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. This turbine eats up energy like me at a Sunday buffet, you know the kind with prime rib, shrimp and seafood, all kinds of pasta, and a dessert bar so big you can’t see the end of it and...oops, I got carried away there... Anyway, the turbine? It takes a whole team of solar, wind, and wave powered generators to make it run!
The final countdown begins. 10, 9. About 100 people grab the rubber ball from all sides and start to stretch it out over the mouth of the turbine. 8, 7. After fastening it to the turbine, it’s helicopter time! 4 huge choppers grab hold of the rubber and start to stretch it up into the sky. 6, 5, 4. The rubber’s stretching out beautifully, this thing actually might work! 3,2,1... Launch!
Someone flips the switch and the turbine turns on. Whoosh...whoosh...whoosh. The turbine gathers speed and starts to pump oxygen directly into the outstretched rubber. After just a few days, the ball’s already bigger than the island itself. From far away, it already starts to look like another planet or sun. Photographers go nuts!
Every day the ball gets bigger and bigger. Its edges reach the nearest coastal cities. Every morning, people come out of their homes and watch an orange rubber ball block out part of the sky. The turbine pumps oxygen into the balloon 24/7, and pretty soon it starts to float up ever so slightly. Next to the island, it becomes difficult to breathe.
And what’s gonna happen when all our oxygen is inside that giant balloon? Whoops...the scientists didn’t think that far ahead. Luckily, it’s 2121, so tech moves pretty quickly to come up with a solution. Engineers submerge billions of tons of 3D-printed phytoplankton and seaweed into the Pacific Ocean...these organisms are some of the Earth’s main suppliers of clean air. They make oxygen the same way trees and plants do.
By now, people are already used to walking the streets, watching the endless rubber sky. At first, it’s all fun and selfies, then international flights over the Pacific start getting cancelled or re-routed. It’s actually faster to go from Beijing to LA by going the other way round the world, on a bunch of ultra-high speed underground trains! The higher the balloon rises, the faster it inflates, something about the difference between internal and external pressure on the balloon.
Basically now, the turbine doesn’t eat up as much juice as before, which is good because it’s the most energy intensive piece of equipment humanity’s ever built! After a few more months, low flying satellites start to crash into the ball and gently bounce off, unharmed. There are only a few days left before P-day...the day everyone gets to witness the greatest pop of all time! Inside the balloon, something crazy’s happening.
The simplest forms of life are starting to take shape! And there’s something these organisms and humanity have in common. We also live in a universe that’s constantly expanding! Maybe the universe is just one big balloon, created by some cosmic race that loves big bangs! Hope they don’t get the urge to pop it!
The balloon rises higher than ever into the sky, and it’s time for the final step. The turbine switches off, and the balloon is sealed shut. The Pacific winds blow the balloon East. It flies over megacities, forests, canyons...and floats low enough to the ground that people can even climb up on the roof and feel the ball with their hands!
Some brave, or crazy people pack on the layers, strap on a parachute and put on special rubber climbing gloves. They scramble up the side of the balloon until they reach the top. It’s a sky-high monster trampoline! When they get enough viral views, they run, jump, and open their parachutes.
When it rains, the balloon deflects all the droplets into a single massive stream of water. You do not want to get a face-full of that! But that’s not the worst part. The Earth’s magnetic field gets disrupted, and the 3D printed phytoplankton just can’t produce enough Oxygen anymore!
People find it difficult to breathe, but everyone agrees, this thing was totally worth it! Animals go mad, and birds get super confused and start migrating to random parts of the globe! The sphere is slowly breaking away from the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s about to go into space! The live-feed from the International Space Station confirms it, the balloon is the same size as Earth!
Let’s do it, it’s time to pop this thing before it starts playing interplanetary pinball! Humanity holds its breath. The penguins in the ice city look up into the sky and fall backwards uncontrollably. The people that decided to turn into sharks and stuff poke their heads out of the water...everyone’s waiting! To pop it, scientists use a powerful laser... It’s the big moment.
Let’s take a second. Big deep breaths...OK, go time. The laser fires up and blasts a liquid hot stream of light particles directly at the balloon. The heat is palpable!
The rubber starts to change color, it’s gonna burst open any second, wait, this could end badly, eh, who cares! A huge amount of oxygen bursts into the Earth’s atmosphere. It wipes away the clouds, leaving a perfect blue sky.
But the most impressive thing is the sound. It just...isn’t? Everybody was jazzed up for an epic sound explosion. Nothing. Maybe a little pfpfpfpfpfp, but that’s it. “Meh,” says some guy, “I liked the shark thing better.”