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How much helium do Macy’s thanksgiving parade balloons use?

Answer: About 400,000 cubic feet.

Snoopy balloon Macy's Thanksgiving parade
Shutterstock/NYC Russ
Balloons like the massive ones that adorn the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year may be one of the most well-known uses of helium, but they’re far from the only one. The natural gas byproduct is an essential element in many scientific technologies too, like MRI machines and NASA balloons. Gizmodo recently decided to crunch the numbers and find out just how much science could be powered by the parade’s balloons.

MRI machines use liquid helium to cool the magnets in the devices to make them superconducting, which is what allows the devices to take their images. The more traditional machines, which can’t reuse the helium like newer iterations, use about 1,500 to 1,700 liters of liquid helium. This converts to about three Macy’s parade balloons’ worth of gaseous helium.

And the Macy’s parade’s consumption of helium is just a tiny drop in the bucket compared to how much NASA uses. The space agency signed a five-year contract in 2009 for 12.5 million liters of liquid helium and 212 million cubic feet of the gas version for equipment like its own balloons. That’s a whole lot of inflatable Snoopys.