GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Have you ever wondered how meteorologists observe conditions thousands of feet in the air? Well, we use handy little instruments called weather balloons.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a UFO, it’s…. s weather balloon. Balloons have been in the news a lot lately, but did you know weather balloons are just as useful today as they were during their invention in 1896? The National Weather Service does 92 balloon launches every single day.

An instrument called a radiosonde is attached to the balloon, which transmits back pressure, temperature and relative humidity. Without weather balloons to observe the vertical profile of the atmosphere, making an accurate forecast beyond a few hours would be almost impossible.

Weather balloons need to be tough to survive the harsh conditions of the upper atmosphere. The National Weather Service reports they can reach up to 100,000 feet in the air, enduring temperatures of -139 degrees and wind speeds of almost 200 mph.

When the balloon reaches a certain altitude, it pops, and a parachute brings the radiosonde safely down. If you ever find one, the instrument will have a mailing bag and instructions about what to do with it.