Lighting Up the Sky with DIY Floating Lanterns

31 Jan

Project #2: Sky Lanterns.

I’ve long been amazed by these floating lights ever since I first saw a picture of them in a magazine as a kid. Later on, I learned that it was a photo of the Pingxi Festival in Taiwan where hundreds of these lanterns are simultaneously released to the sky. It was such an awe-inspiring image that was burned to my memory as a child.

Last week, a scene from Disney’s latest animated film, Tangled, brought back that childhood awe I’ve long since forgotten. It was a scene where thousands and thousands of sky lanterns were floating above a still lake which reflected the lights and sky above it.

It was then I thought: “Hey, these lanterns look simple enough. I bet I can make one myself.” And so started my project for the weekend.

Coincidentally, it’ll be Chinese New Year in a few days and it’ll be the perfect time to release some lanterns. They supposedly bring good luck and prosperity. People in China traditionally write their wishes on the lanterns to set them off to the heavens. In other cultures, letting go of the lantern is symbolic of problems and worries floating away.

I started by gathering supplies. Thin paper, sticks, wire, aluminum foil, cotton, alcohol, glue, scissors. Usual household stuff. Putting it together was easy enough. The concept was simple: form some type of enclosure (thin paper) supported by a structure (wires + sticks) to trap the warm air being generated by a heat source (fire + cotton + alcohol). Elementary hot air balloon science (or so I thought).

Voila! My home-made sky lantern–

DIY Sky Lantern

And off I went to launch it…

Launching My DIY Sky Lantern

It lit up beautifully, filling the whole lantern with warm air and a fiery red glow. I held it up and gave it a little upward push before finally letting it go. It hovered a little mid-air… but then gently floated back down. I tried again a second time… a third time… a fourth… to the same result. The experiment was a failure! :(

But only for now. I did some more research on why my design didn’t quite work out. It could have been for a number of reasons. The heat may have not been enough. The materials may have been too heavy. The enclosure might not have been airtight. The weather may have been too humid. In any case, I’ll definitely try this again soon until I finally get it right. Till then, I’ll have this post to remind me of my first attempt at making my own sky lantern.

Some Links

  • Breathtaking images of sky lanterns in flight here, here and here.
  • I’ve scoured the web for sky lantern tutorials and this is the easiest and most practical I’ve found.
  • Here‘s an instructional video of how to launch your sky lantern.
  • You can also order sky lanterns in bulk online if you don’t have the time to make them yourself. Perfect idea for birthdays, parties, even weddings. :) Local filipino sellers here and here.
  • Click here to learn more about the sky lantern’s history and festivals.
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