UFO: Unidentified Foreign Object

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, the citizens of Billings, Montana spotted something strange in the sky: an enormous object floated high above the ground. Was it a bird? A plane? An egg salad sandwich? The United States Department of Defense revealed the next day that the object was a high-altitude balloon from China suspected to be used for surveillance purposes. They had been tracking the eastward trajectory of the balloon as it crossed Alaska and Canada, finally passing over the landscape of the continental United States.

The balloon was bright white and estimated to be the size of three school buses, hovering at an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet. A day after the Department of Defense’s statement, the Chinese government confirmed that the balloon was theirs but denied any surveillance purposes, claiming it to be an airship used for scientific research that had simply blown off-course. Despite this claim, the United States military shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4 with a missile from an F-22 stealth fighter military plane. The Navy later retrieved and inspected the debris, confirming the balloon had contained surveillance equipment.

A few days later, China released a statement condemning the United States’ decision to shoot the balloon down, saying that the action “seriously impacted and damaged both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-U.S. relations.” Sino-US relations indeed had already been at their lowest point in decades, with the US opposing China’s bold political and economic moves, and the surveillance balloon incident has further worsened relations. The same day the existence of the balloon was announced, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled an important planned trip to Beijing. The United States has accused China of refusing to take responsibility, and China has in turn accused America of undue aggression. Only as time passes will it become evident how this singular incident will affect both countries and to an extent, the entire globe.

Kayla Ranney