How a Galileo Barometer Works

Updated April 17, 2017

In addition to being useful tools to predict near-term weather, Galileo barometers can be used as decorations for the living rooms of the scientific-minded. They provide a visual representation of atmospheric pressure based on the water level in an open tube.


The Galileo barometer is based on a single piece of glass and a fluid, usually distilled water. The glass has an area dedicated to housing a reservoir of fluid and a thin, upward-facing spout that is open to the atmosphere. The water is often dyed so it can be seen from a distance.


To fill the reservoir, use a syringe to overcome the vacuum seal created at the point where the spout connects with the reservoir. The device is usually turned upside down and filled one syringe-full at a time until the fluid is approximately halfway up the spout. There must be room for the fluid level to fluctuate in both directions as the atmospheric pressure changes.


When a low-pressure weather system approaches, the weight of the air pressing on the open end of the spout decreases, allowing the water level to rise. Conversely, when a high-pressure system moves in, it will push the water level down. A scale can be printed on the spout corresponding to the inches of mercury, normally between 28 and 32 inches.

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About the Author

A professional travel writer since April 2010, Doug Leenhouts has written for and He has a Bachelor of Science in management information systems from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and three years of service in a consulting firm.