In the US's hunt for spy balloons and/or other unidentified flying objects (UFOs), the military may have shot down the balloon of an amateur group known as the “Northern Illinois Bottlecap Balloon Brigade”.
In recent weeks, four objects have been shot down by the US. While the US is adamant that the first balloon is a spy balloon belonging to China, it isn't so sure about the other three. A leading explanation so far, currently being investigated by US intelligence, is that "these could be balloons that were simply tied to commercial or research entities and therefore benign" according to the White House National Security Council.
Meanwhile, one of the Bottlecap Balloon Brigade's balloons has gone missing. The group's silver-coated "pico balloon" last reported its position off the west coast of Alaska at 11,859 meters (38,910 feet) according to Aviation Week. A forecasting tool based on a model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that the cylindrical balloon would have been in the same area as one of the objects which was spotted and shot down.
A Pico balloon being launched.
The US has not yet recovered debris from the object in Alaska, and it's not likely that it will be found anytime soon.
“The objects in Alaska and Canada are in pretty remote terrain – ice, wilderness, all of that – making it difficult to find them in winter weather," National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, said at a recent press conference.
The hobbyist balloon group came forward as a possible candidate for the object, noting the similar location and the lost contact. However, they stress that no physical evidence has yet been found to know either way.
"As has been widely reported, no part of the object shot down by the US Air Force jet over the Yukon territory has been recovered," the group said in a statement seen by CBS. "Until that happens and that object is confirmed to be an identifiable pico balloon, any assertions or claims that our balloon was involved in that incident are not supported by facts."
The balloons are about 91 centimeters (3 feet) in diameter at ground level, but as they ascend 6,100-15,240 meters (20,000-50,000 feet) they expand to two to three times the size. At these heights, they reach neutral buoyancy, and bob around wherever the wind takes them, be that across the world or into the path of a US F-22 Raptor jet.