When you’re driving around and glancing up at power lines, you’re probably not going to see much. Maybe the occasional bird or squirrel. So, when a seemingly random colorful ball shows up on a powerline, it can come as a surprise.
Chances are, you’ve seen those colorful balls on powerlines more than once in your life. But, did you know they actually serve a purpose?
They’re called marker balls, and while they don’t mean much to drivers, they’re incredibly important to low-flying aircraft. Marker balls are used to indicate where power lines are, so airplanes have a clearer picture if they’re flying low. It reduces the risk of a low-flying craft running into the lines and wreaking havoc.
This is especially important for small planes only operating with a single pilot or passenger since they typically fly lower to the ground than commercial jets.
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Marker balls are so important, that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has mandated them on wires that cross over lakes, rivers, and canyons. You’ll typically see them in orange, white, and yellow because those are the colors most visible from far away.
While these balls might look small from the ground, they’re actually pretty hefty! They’re anywhere between 20-36 inches around and made of plastic so they don’t conduct electricity.
But marker balls are nothing new. They’ve actually been hanging on powerlines since the 1970s, but so many people still don’t know what they are or what purpose they serve.