11 Facts About the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons—And What It Takes To Inflate Them

At its start in 1924 (when it celebrated Christmas!), the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade wasn't a high-flying event: It was organized by employees and featured animals from the Central Park Zoo. The balloons—which used to be filled with only air—made their debut in 1927; Felix the Cat was the first character balloon. Now, 85 years later, the inflation of the balloons is an event itself. The parade closes off the streets next to the American Museum of Natural History, pins down its balloons, begins to inflate them, and invites the public to watch. We were there—and here are some of the things we learned.

1. For 43 years, the balloons were designed and made in a former Tootsie Roll factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. Last year, the Macy's Design Studio moved to a new 72,000 square foot studio in nearby Moonachie.

2. There will be 56 balloons in the parade this year: 16 giant character balloons and 40 novelty balloons.

3. The characters flying for the first time this year are Hello Kitty, Elf on the Shelf, Papa Smurf, and Companion by KAWS. Here's what they look like on the ground:


Hello Kitty


Papa Smurf


Companion by KAWS


Elf on the Shelf

4. The balloons used to be made of rubber; now they're made of polyurethane fabric.

5. The balloons are filled with a mixture of helium and air. The highest point of a balloon requires 100 percent helium, while something like a smile or a button needs only air.

6. It takes 90 minutes to inflate a giant balloon.

7. The average life of a balloon is eight years. This Kermit has been flying since 2002. He's 78 feet long, 61 feet high, and 36 feet wide.

8. On average, balloons are filled with 12,000 cubic feet of helium—that's enough to lift 746 pounds!

9. Balloons under nets are finished being inflated; the ones not under nets are still inflating. When those balloons are done, they'll be moved under a net.

10. SpongeBob SquarePants took its first flight in 2004, the year The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie came out.

11. The Aflac Duck, which debuted last year, is a "balloonicle." It combines a cold-air balloon and self-propelled vehicle.

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Oli Scarff, Getty Images
How a Particle Accelerator Is Helping to Unearth Long-Lost Pieces of Art
Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

A particle accelerator is revealing the people in 150-year-old photographs whose features had been lost to time, Science News reports.

For the first time, Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. candidate at Canada’s Western University, and a team of scientists used an accelerator called a synchrotron to scan daguerreotypes, an ancestor of modern photography.

before and after image of a damaged dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

Invented by French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes were popular from around the 1840s to the 1860s. They were created by exposing an iodized silver-coated copper plate to a camera (the iodine helped make the plate's surface light-sensitive). Subjects had to sit in front of the camera for 20 to 30 minutes to set the portrait, down from the eight hours it took before Daguerre perfected his method. Photographers could then develop and fix the image with a combination of mercury and table salt.

Because they’re made of metal, though, daguerreotypes are prone to tarnish. Scientists can sometimes recover historical daguerreotypes by analyzing samples taken from their surface, but such attempts are often both destructive and futile, Kozachuk wrote in a study published in Scientific Reports.

Kozachuk found that using a particle accelerator is a less invasive and more accurate method. While some scientists have used X-ray imaging machines to digitally scan other historical objects, such instruments are too large to scan daguerreotypes. Reading the subtle variations on a daguerreotype surface requires a micron-level beam that only a particle accelerator can currently produce. By tracing the pattern of mercury deposits in the tarnished plate, the researchers were able to reveal the obscured image and create a digital photo of what the daguerrotype looked like when it was first made.

before and after image of a recovered dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

“When the image became apparent, it was jaw-dropping,” Kozachuk told Science News. “I squealed when the first face popped up.”

Scanning one square centimeter of each 8-by-7 centimeter plate took about eight hours. The technique, though time-intensive, may allow museums and collectors to restore old daguerreotypes with minimal damage.

“The ability to recover lost images will enable museums to expand their understanding of daguerreotype collections, as severely degraded plates would not otherwise have been able to be studied or viewed by interested scholars,” Kozachuk wrote.

[h/t Science News]

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Courtesy of October Films
This Scientist's Idea of the 'Perfect' Human Body Is Kind of Terrifying
Courtesy of October Films
Courtesy of October Films

The perfect human body has the legs of an ostrich, the heart of a dog, and the eyes of an octopus, according to anatomist Alice Roberts. And it’s utterly terrifying.

With the help of anatomical artist Scott Eaton and special effects designer Sangeet Prabhaker, Roberts created a life-size replica of herself that fixes many design flaws inherent to the human body, Motherboard reports. Roberts unveiled the sculpture on April 23 at the Science Museum in London. On June 13, the BBC released a documentary about the project.

Among the flaws Roberts’s sculpture corrects are humans’ inferior ears, spine, and lungs. Roberts borrowed anatomy from reptiles, birds, and other mammals to create a Frankenstein-esque creature straight from the island of Dr. Moreau.

The sculpture of Alice 2.0, left, with Alice Roberts, right
Courtesy of October Films

The sculpture has legs like an ostrich because, as Roberts says on her website, the human knee is complex and prone to failure. Like humans, ostriches are bipedal, but they are far better runners. Bird-like lungs that keep air flowing in one direction, not two, make running and other aerobic activities easier for the perfect human to manage. And a chimpanzee’s sturdier spine and a dog’s heart (which has more connected arteries, leading to lower heart attack risk) make Roberts’s alternate self more resistant to injury and disease.

Roberts’s ideal human body also has skin like a frog that can change shades based on the environment, and large, bat-like ears that amplify sound. Roberts also fixed humans’ backwards retina, which produces a natural blind spot, by borrowing from octopus eye anatomy.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the baby head poking out of the sculpture’s marsupial pouch. Roberts says marsupial pregnancy would be far easier on the human body and more convenient for parents on the go.

“This could be a human fit for the future,” Roberts says at the end of a trailer for her BBC documentary.

[h/t Motherboard]

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