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Suspected Chinese surveillance balloon shot down over Atlantic Ocean


The U.S. Military took down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon Saturday afternoon. A U.S. official confirmed the balloon was shot down with a single missile fired by a fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean.

For the past several days, the balloon drifted over the United States after its first spotting in Montana. Some Missouri residents reported seeing the balloon overhead Friday afternoon. 

President Joe Biden said forces waited until it drifted over the ocean to keep the balloon from harming anyone on land. The “debris radius” is reported as seven miles long and 42 feet deep.

Recovery efforts for parts of the balloon started quickly after it was shot down. The Pentagon announced they plan to continue recovering pieces from the balloon and will work with the F.B.I. to analyze what was found.

Officials say the recovery operation is expected to wrap up within the next few days.

Jon Bongard, a University of Missouri Ph.D. candidate for atmospheric science, said the size of the balloon and the ability to remotely control it was unlike anything he’s seen.

“Obviously whatever they're flying up there,” Bongard said. “It’s a lot more intricate and technical than what we're doing with ours.”

In the past eight years he’s worked with the university, Bongard said they’ve never gotten their balloons back. The balloons are at the will of the wind until they burst and sometimes deploy parachutes, landing as far as Illinois. 

It doesn’t matter much he said, the data is fed back to the team about an hour after launch.

The university’s balloons carry data sensors for different things like temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed, or wind direction. That data can be used for research on severe storms or big changes in weather. Additionally, the university partners with weather service partners to share information found through the balloons.

At 30,000 to 40,000 feet, the university balloons can inflate to the size of a car or a small house. The surveillance balloon was first spotted in Montana– visible at 60,000 feet.

“Ours isn't nearly as big as what we've seen over overhead here in the last day or so,” Bongard said. “I would imagine [it’s] exponentially bigger than anything that we fly. I saw it yesterday and I was kind of taken aback by the fact that you could still see it.”

It’s still not clear what sort of information was recorded by the balloon, but the size could’ve been reflective of how much technology was attached. 

The size of the university’s sensors, called radio signs, isn’t much bigger than a cell phone or smartphone. Meaning whatever the surveillance balloon was carrying, the size made up for it.

“They've probably tested this thing really extensively to make sure that it could handle that kind of weight,” Bongard added. “It would normally be a neat thing, but in this case, it's kind of terrifying.”

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Abby Landwehr


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