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US military spends weekend shooting down Useless Floating Objects

You wait years for unidentified aerial phenomena then three turn up at once

It was a busy weekend in the skies over North America, with the US Air Force shooting unidentified aircraft out of the air on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Those three engagements bring the total in US/Canadian airspace to four since the downing of a Chinese spy balloon earlier in February. Unlike the first balloon, which China admitted belonged to it but claimed was a scientific balloon, these other three haven't been as clearly explained.

China has insisted it has no information on the latest three objects, though that didn't stop several companies linked to the production of the Chinese balloon from being added to the US Commerce Department's entity list over the weekend.

Americans are a bit on edge after that whole Chinese spy balloon thing, so just what the hell is going on?

The unidentified aerial weekend

An aircraft-of-sorts the size of a small car was shot down in Alaskan airspace Friday. White House spokesperson John Kirby said that it was unclear who owned the object or where the flight originated.

In a briefing regarding the object, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said it "wasn't an aircraft per se," didn't appear to have a human on board, was incapable of maneuvering and didn't resemble an airplane. 

Ryder said the aircraft was shot down because the Pentagon believed it posed a reasonable threat to air traffic as it was flying at around 40,000 feet. 

A second object passed into Canadian airspace on Saturday, which Ryder said was shot down over Canada after close coordination between the US and Canadian governments.

Then, Sunday morning, a third object was shot down in the air over Lake Huron in northeastern Michigan that the Pentagon said was flying at 20,000 feet and, like the Alaskan object, posed a threat to commercial aviation. 

If you're wondering where the phantom object spotted over Montana (not the first one – the one that turned up this weekend) ended up, it's probably in Lake Huron. "Based on its flight path and data we can reasonably connect this object to the radar signal picked up over Montana, which flew in proximity to sensitive DoD sites," the Pentagon said. 

Again, that doesn't mean any of these latest three aerial incursions are anything to worry about – or even that out of the ordinary. It's not aliens or necessarily next-gen weaponry. What's changed is our awareness of what's floating around in Earth's atmosphere. 

You've heard of space garbage…

There's a well-known problem with debris in Earth's orbit, but there's a lot of atmosphere between the ground and space where stuff is floating that many of us are completely unaware of, says Connecticut Representative Jim Himes, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Speaking to NPR on Sunday, Himes said that in his role on the Intelligence Committee, he's been privy to briefings on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs, also known as UFOs) and learned that "there is an immense amount of garbage up there, all kinds of balloons."

Far from having to be a nation state or official organization, he said that practically anyone can send a balloon into the air. "There are folks launching weather balloons, Wi-Fi balloons, you name it," Himes said, adding: "Now we're just particularly sensitized to it." 

(El Reg has been known to launch one or two back in the day...)

In the wake of the Chinese balloon event earlier this month, the US government is on high alert, Himes said. "Our military radars and that sort of thing [are] doing something that they're not used to doing, which is looking for balloons. So I think because we're really looking hard, we're seeing a lot of this garbage," Himes said. 

Himes's role as a permanent member of the Select Intel committee means he gets a lot of briefings before other members of Congress and officials. On that note, he said he's not concerned about threats from these latest UAPs in the slightest. 

"I am very confident that none of these objects represent a threat to the national security of the United States, to its people. The reason I say that is that if they were a threat, if they were a military action, if they had dangerous capabilities, I'm quite certain I would have been briefed," Himes said. ®

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