If not a weather balloon or spaceship, then what was that UFO?
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Sep. 3, 2013
STRATOSPHERE, Earth (KGUN9-TV) - UFO no more. The bright object in Arizona’s sky has been identified. Was it a weather balloon? A spaceship? Here are hints: it carried college student experiments and cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A few people snapped fairly clear pictures of the teardrop-shaped object. It seemed to glow in the Northern Arizona sky Monday early evening.
But for many Tucsonans, it just looked like a shiny triangle.
Turns out it was a NASA "scientific balloon," which launched near the Texas-New Mexico line and made its way to Northern Arizona. Several universities were involved, too.
How could Southern Arizonans see it?
“A lot of it has to do with how high the balloon was,” said J.J. Brost of the National Weather Service in Tucson, which is not part of the project. “These weather balloons that NASA launched go upwards of 100,000 to 120,000 feet high.”
That’s up to nearly 23 miles from the earth, which is about three times higher than many planes fly.
The balloon was huge. A football field could fit inside, according to Dwayne Orr, head of operations at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility. That facility coordinated the project.
"These very large balloons can carry a payload weighing as much as 3,600 kilograms (8,000 pounds), about the weight of three small cars,” according to the balloon facility website. “They can fly up to 42 kilometers (26 miles) high and stay there for up to two weeks."
Also helping it stand out: the material was shiny and easily reflected the sun.
The balloon landed near Whittman, Arizona, which is a 160-mile drive from Tucson. See a map of the full journey.
It carried ten science experiments from college students, Orr said. He said one experiment looked for life in the upper atmosphere and found it.
That makes the craft different than a weather balloon. It's a research balloon.
“It's invaluable for getting new students excited about science,” he said.
“This is a very inexpensive way to get science in the upper atmosphere,” he added. “It is a great mechanism for training new scientists for work in the space program.”
“If you saw it, you're lucky because you don't always get to see those from Arizona,” said Brost, who didn't see it himself.
Orr said the balloons cost between $150,000 and $300,000.