A missing balloon launched by a small group of Illinois hobbyists emerged Thursday as the latest potential theory behind one of the unidentified objects the U.S. military shot down over the weekend, and President Joe Biden is already facing political heat for the possibility—though U.S. officials haven’t responded to the idea.
A recent blog post from the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade said one of its silver “pico” balloons–a term for small balloons distinguished from larger objects like weather balloons–went missing early Saturday morning off the southwest coast of Alaska.
Hours later, U.S. fighter jets with the North American Aerospace Defense Command shot down an unidentified object over Canada’s Yukon territory—which borders Alaska—using a heat-seeking missile, the third of four mysterious floating objects that were struck by the U.S. military this month.
The news site Aviation Week first reported on the possible connection between the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade and the Yukon object on Thursday, drawing attention from reporters and pundits who wondered aloud whether the two incidents were linked.
A balloon that disappeared off the coast of Alaska at the time the group says its did would have likely been drifting over the central area of the sprawling Yukon territory around the time fighters shot down the object, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s HYSPLIT model.
The last reported altitude of the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade’s balloon was around 39,000 feet–American officials said the object shot down over Yukon was flying at roughly 40,000 feet.
The Illinois group’s balloon might be too small to correspond with the object shot down by fighter jets, however: The group’s object was likely a 32-inch Mylar balloon, according to hobby site RTL-SDR.com, though defense officials have said the unidentified objects were roughly the size of small cars.
The theory has not been promoted by either the group or the Pentagon—the group did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Forbes, while the Pentagon declined to comment.
$12. That’s how cheap some pico balloons cost—though pricier models can run up to $180—according to Aviation Week. Pico balloons the Illinois group and other hobbyists use are extremely lightweight, though they typically include a payload consisting of GPS trackers and radio transmitters
Some right-wing figures quickly seized on the story, with hard-right provocateur Jack Posobiec tweeting: “Biden ordered the Air Force to shoot down the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Brigade’s weather balloon,” while Donald Trump Jr. tweeted: “First Biden lets a legit Chinese spy balloon fly all the way across the U.S. Then to show he’s tough, he starts shooting down $12 projects launched by (I kid you not) ‘the Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade’ with $400,000 missiles!”
U.S. officials have offered few details about what the three objects it shot down between Friday and Monday might be, but they have ruled some things out. President Joe Biden said Thursday there’s no sign the objects were part of a Chinese surveillance program—unlike a suspected spy balloon that hovered across the country earlier this month before U.S. fighters shot it down off the coast of South Carolina—instead suggesting private scientific research might have been behind the objects, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday there was “no indication of alien or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.”
The first unidentified object was shot down Friday off the northern coast of Alaska at around 40,000 feet, while another object was downed over Lake Huron on Sunday at an altitude of about 20,000 feet, according to officials. Biden said the takedowns were ordered because of a potential threat to civilian aircraft, and emphasized Thursday he would make “no apologies” for giving the orders to shoot the objects down.
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