Four mysterious objects, including a suspected spy balloon and three that are unidentified beyond being described as cylindrical or octagonal, have been shot down by fighter jets over North America in just over a week. Here’s what we know about them all
13 February 2023
In the past two weeks, four objects have been shot down over North America – starting with a suspected Chinese spy balloon – widely revealing the existence of high-altitude surveillance devices that have probably been in use for decades.
Numerous other sightings have now been reported around the world, including China claiming that the US has sent its own spy balloons over its territory. Here is what we know about the four objects shot down so far.
Chinese spy balloon, shot down on 4 February, South Carolina, US
US officials first detected a huge balloon over Alaskan airspace on 28 January and tracked it crossing Canada and reentering the US over Idaho. It sparked public concern – despite China’s insistence that it was an adrift meteorological balloon – as it overflew a range of sensitive sites including missile silos and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.
It was finally shot down off the coast of South Carolina on 4 February at an altitude of about 18,000 metres once the risk of harm to the public had passed.
We know from US military officials that the balloon was about 60 metres in height and carried a payload, thought to have weighed around 900 kilograms, that was about the size of a small passenger jet, perhaps around 30 metres in length.
Recovery efforts are still under way in the sea, but parts of the canopy and whatever was slung under it have already been retrieved.
Cylindrical object, shot down on 10 February, north Alaska, US
A second object was observed on 9 February flying over Alaska. The craft looked different from the Chinese balloon, being described as “cylindrical and silver-ish grey” and flying without any obvious means of propulsion, being “virtually at the whim of the wind”.
It was shot down the following day when it was over water. US officials have said they don’t yet know where it came from.
Patrick Ryder from the US Air Force described the difference between the prior balloon sighting and this unidentified object as being like “apples and oranges”. It is said to have been considerably smaller, around the size of a car, and travelling at an altitude of around 12,100 metres.
Recovery efforts are under way and the wreckage may have fallen onto ice rather than open water.
Cylindrical object, shot down on 11 February, Yukon, Canada
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau tweeted on 11 February that a third object had been shot down over North America, by a US fighter jet. The object has been described as cylindrical by Canadian defence minister Anita Anand.
It was flying at around 12,100 metres, meaning its behaviour as well as appearance matched the North Alaskan object.
Trudeau has said that recovery teams are searching for the wreckage on the ground – making it the only one of the four craft to be brought down over land – and that there was still “much to know”.
Octagonal object, shot down on 12 February, Lake Huron, US
The fourth object shot down, by US F-16 fighter jets on 12 February, seems to have been different from the previous three. It has reportedly been described as an “octagonal structure” with dangling strings. This one was travelling at the lowest altitude of the lot, around 6000 metres.
It is reported to have flown over sensitive US military sites, but it isn’t clear if this was an intentional route or just a path taken by a craft that is carried by the wind.
General Glen VanHerck of the US Air Force said that this and the prior north Alaskan and Canadian discoveries were being called “objects, not balloons, for a reason”. Recovery efforts are under way, with divers searching Lake Huron off Michigan.
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