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Illustration: Will Chase/Axios. Satellite photo: CNES/Airbus via AP

Marine architects and salvage experts were flummoxed on how to free the massive Ever Given container ship until today's breakthrough at the Suez Canal. But Axios devised three novel prescriptions for unsticking the big ship:

1. Helium balloons: After all, it worked for that guy in "Up" (and "balloon boy"). The key here is Archimedes' principle — that the upward buoyant force on a body immersed in a fluid is equal to the weight of the displaced fluid (in case you forgot that one from your physics class).

  • WIRED calculated that you would need to displace 50.7 million pounds to raise the ship by one meter, allowing tugboats to pull it free. So we'll use 50.7 million as our magic number. One cubic foot of air weighs 0.0807 pounds (yes, air is a fluid). Then we must subtract the weight of the helium itself (0.0114 pounds/cubic foot), which gives us 0.069 pounds as the weight that one cubic foot of helium can lift.
  • A standard party balloon holds about 0.526 cubic feet of gas, and thus could lift 0.036294 pounds. So to raise our ship one meter we would need 50.7 million pounds divided by 0.036294 pounds of lift per balloon, or 1,396,925,111 helium balloons. Call it 1 billion. That’s roughly half the helium that exists on earth.
Illustration: Will Chase/Axios. Satellite photo: CNES/Airbus via AP

2. Pool noodles: Using our trusty Archimedes principle, a standard 3.5 inch by 55 inch foam noodle can lift about 18.3 pounds. Taking 50.7 million pounds divided by 18.3 pounds of lift per noodle gives us a required 2,770,492 foam noodles. Call it 2 million.

Illustration: Will Chase/Axios. Satellite photo: CNES/Airbus via AP

3. Dolphins: A landmark study in 2008 showed that dolphins can exert between 200-400 pounds of force when swimming. Let's take the middle of that range and assume that our dolphins can all push upwards on our boat with 300 pounds of force (and that they can all work in perfect synchrony, something we might need Aquaman to help with.) Then dividing 50.7 million by 300 pounds of force per dolphin, we'd only need 169,000 dolphins. Sounds like a plan.

Go deeper

Updated Mar 28, 2021 - World

Suez update: Race to free stuck ship intensifies

Photo: Gokturk-1 Observation Satellite/ HANDOUT via Getty Images

The massive container ship that's captured the world's attention remained stuck in the Suez Canal six days on, but authorities expressed optimism it may be dislodged this weekend.

Why it matters: More than 300 cargo ships are blocked and waiting for rescuers to free the "Ever Given," per The New York Times. The ship — which is almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall — is also causing incredible downstream damage to the global economy.

Updated 10 mins ago - Technology

Instagram's boss faces Congress' questions on harm to teens

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED

The head of Instagram will find himself in Congress' crosshairs for the first time Wednesday in the one area lawmakers have shown they are willing to pass tech regulations — protecting youngsters online.

Why it matters: Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in grilling tech companies on how their products harm children, especially after revelations in The Wall Street Journal about Instagram's potential harm to the mental health of teen girls.

Jan. 6 committee to start contempt proceedings against Meadows

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 select committee plans to move forward with contempt proceedings against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for his refusal to comply with the panel's subpoena.

Why it matters: The committee has used the threat of contempt — and the associated financial and reputational costs — to try to ensure evasive witnesses sit for their depositions.