The South Brunswick Police Department had quite the day on August 7 after a peculiar package landed in New Jersey plastered with several odd messages, written in black marker pen ink. The one that got their attention, of course, was this: "NASA Atmospheric Research Instrument – NOT A BOMB!”
Bit of advice: if you don’t want people to think that there’s a bomb in a box of yours, don’t put a label like this on the side. That’s about as suspicious as the President’s repeated refrain of “NO COLLUSION” on Twitter. As it turns out, though, this peculiar tale involves the President himself, in a manner of speaking.
“At approximately 11:53am, Officer Salvatore Fama was dispatched to a Solar Panel field at 147 New Road in Kendall Park for a suspicious white package attached to a parachute that had dropped down from the sky,” a statement from the police in question begins.
Witnesses nearby told authorities that the box was making a “hissing sound,” and that “there was a handwritten note attached to it indicating it was not a bomb and made mention of the President.” The box’s note, per The New York Times, said: “If this lands near the President, we at NASA wish him a great round of golf.”
The box landed in a field of solar panels, one that was two-dozen miles or so south of where the President was currently staying in Bedminster. Altogether, this triggered a bit of a worry for the police, who sent in the bomb squad to investigate.
It turns out that this box was a tropospheric ozone monitoring device, one of a family of six that had been recently released skywards by a scientist at NASA. It worked just as it was designed to, having descended in a random-ish location as it recorded data. That hissing was likely coming from a filter that sucked in air to detect said ozone levels, a key measure of air pollution.
The note was, per a NASA spokesperson, composed and attached by an undergraduate intern, someone who has since been removed from the project. NASA apologized to the authorities, adding that the sign was a misguided attempt at humor by the intern.
Although such incidents are extremely rare, this is far from the first time that airborne weather instruments have inadvertently caused a bit of fuss. From the weather balloon crash that triggered the infamous alien rumors at Roswell to a series of them that crashed into a conservatory, a car and some power lines in the UK, their unpredictable movements can be a tad bothersome.
The stellar science that’s obtained by using these mildly cumbersome instruments is certainly worth the occasional mishap – but perhaps they’re not the best joke props.