As tensions between the United States and China continue to rise, a mysterious Chinese balloon has been traversing the US, raising alarms from US defense officials. Is it a weather balloon, as Chinese officials claim, or a high-altitude surveillance device, as US defense officials suspect? In this blog post, we will explore the facts behind this balloon and the questions it raises.
The balloon, which was first spotted on February 1 above Montana, is around 90 feet wide; three times the size of a typical weather balloon. According to Jonathan Porter, the chief meteorologist at Accuweather, “the reported characteristics of this balloon don’t really match anything that we’re familiar with.” Alexandra Anderson-Frey, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, adds that “there’s obviously a lot more equipment on this one” than a typical weather balloon.
The balloon has traversed the Pacific Ocean, from China to Alaska to Canada, before reaching the continental US, and is currently flying at an altitude well above commercial air traffic. This has caused experts to question Chinese officials’ claim that the balloon was blown off course, as weather balloons typically do not travel such distances.
The US government is considering a plan to shoot down the balloon once it is above the Atlantic Ocean, so that the remnants can be recovered. Secretary of State Antony Blinken deemed the alleged spy balloon “unacceptable and irresponsible,” and proceeded to cancel his upcoming trip to China from Feb. 5 to Feb. 6. A second balloon with similarly suspicious characteristics was detected moving over Latin America on Friday.
China is notorious for keeping its technological research private, but experts find it unlikely that this balloon is a result of such research. Anderson-Frey explains that weather technology has remained relatively unchanged since the 70s and 80s, and she is puzzled by why Chinese officials didn’t expect the balloon to cross the US or face detection.
The mystery of the Chinese balloon continues to unfold, and it is sure to have implications for the US-China relationship. As more information is revealed, we will continue to update you on the facts behind this balloon.