NORAD and FAA Monitoring Mystery Balloon Now Potentially Over Georgia

NORAD jets scrambled today to investigate a mysterious balloon spotted flying over the U.S. airspace in the west. Experts doubt it is a weather balloon due to its size, payload, and location. NORAD, the military command responsible for air defense in the U.S., intercepted the balloon over Utah after it was seen drifting east from Colorado.

This incident is reminiscent of a similar occurrence last February when a balloon from China drifted into the United States. The U.S. military ultimately shot it down, claiming it was a spycraft, while China maintained it was just a weather balloon that had gone off course.

During the winter, the U.S. encountered another intriguing situation where they shot down four unidentified flying objects within a span of three days. One of these objects was suspected to be a $12 hobbyist balloon.

NORAD will continue to track the balloon as it moves towards the south and east. According to an unnamed official who spoke to CBS News, the balloon is projected to reach Georgia tonight.

The FAA assures that the balloon does not pose any threat to the safety of flights.

According to NORAD, the balloon is currently floating at an altitude of 43,000 to 45,000 feet. NORAD has concluded that the balloon is not capable of maneuvering and will continue to drift with the high-altitude winds. The balloon seems to be made of Mylar and is carrying an approximately 2-foot cube payload. The purpose of this payload remains unknown.

The origin of this balloon and whether it belongs to a hobbyist remains unknown.

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The National Weather Service, as the largest user and launcher of weather balloons in North America, plays a crucial role in supplementing data captured by weather satellites. They conduct a minimum of two mission-critical balloon launches every day, and sometimes even more when weather conditions demand it. These launches take place from their offices located throughout the United States and its territories and possessions.

A radiosonde, an essential device carried by a weather balloon, ascends into the atmosphere to gather crucial data. This small, disposable instrument package hangs approximately 80 feet below a large hydrogen-filled balloon. As the radiosonde steadily rises at a rate of around 1,000 feet per minute, its sensors measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These sensors are connected to a battery-powered radio transmitter, which relays the sensor measurements to a highly sensitive ground tracking antenna. By tracking the radiosonde’s position using GPS or a radio direction finding antenna, wind speed and direction at higher altitudes can also be determined. The tracking antenna receives the radio signals and converts them into meteorological values. From these data, significant levels are selected by a computer, encoded, and then transmitted to data users. Additionally, the NOAA National Climatic Data Center archives and distributes high-resolution flight data and other relevant information.

When the weather balloon is released, it starts off with a diameter of about 5 feet. As it ascends into higher altitudes, it expands gradually due to the difference in air pressure between the balloon and its surroundings. Eventually, when the balloon reaches a diameter of 20 to 25 feet, it bursts. To ensure the safety of lives and property, a small parachute is attached to the radiosonde, which helps slow down its descent. This precaution is especially important considering the lightweight nature of the device.

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