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'UFO' floating over Prescott was a NASA research balloon

What area residents were seeing in the sky over Prescott on Tuesday night, June 8, 2021, was a high altitude research balloon launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. It drifted west over Arizona and descended and touched down northeast of Chino Valley, Arizona. (Judith Connick/Courtesy)

What area residents were seeing in the sky over Prescott on Tuesday night, June 8, 2021, was a high altitude research balloon launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico. It drifted west over Arizona and descended and touched down northeast of Chino Valley, Arizona. (Judith Connick/Courtesy)

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Area resident Nikole Hahn said she ran outside in her pajamas to capture this photo of the NASA research balloon as it drifted in the skies above Prescott Tuesday night, June 8, 2021. (Nikole Hahn/Courtesy)

From Dewey to downtown Prescott and throughout the state, residents reported seeing a bright, round object floating in the sky Tuesday evening.

"Through binoculars it appeared to be some sort of balloon," Cynthia Loucks told the Courier in an online message.

Initially, many skywatchers speculated it was a weather balloon. But the National Weather Service confirmed that what residents were seeing was actually a large research balloon launched from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

On a Facebook photo post Tuesday night, the National Weather Service (NWS) explained, "Did you see this in the sky tonight and think it was our weather balloon? We saw it too and can confirm it's not one of our weather balloons. In fact, it appears to be one in a fleet of NASA research balloons."

In another tweet, a NWS official explained that the balloon spotted over Arizona was an "entirely different type of balloon than what the NWS uses. Those research balloons go high above the troposphere," which is the lowest region of the atmosphere.

On Wednesday morning, June 9, NASA confirmed the balloon was theirs. It was carrying what they called the "Balloon Observation of Microburst Scales," or BOOMS and BALloon-Based Observations for sunlit Aurora, or BALBOA.

According to a Wednesday morning post on nasa.gov, the flight lasted 15 hours and floated to an altitude of 117,300 feet, but drifted west over Arizona. "The balloon descended and touched down northeast of Chino Valley, Arizona, on June 9 at 12:54 a.m. EDT / June 8 at 10:54 p.m. MST," NASA wrote.

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A scientific balloon launching from NASA's Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, in 2019. (File photo by Joy Ng/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

The flight was part of a suite of scientific balloons carrying instruments that will help scientists understand the connection between the Sun and Earth.

"The Sun sizzles at the center of our solar system 93 million miles away, but its influence doesn’t end there," NASA explained. "It exhales the solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles that whisks past Earth and continues for more than 4 billion miles. Sudden bursts in the solar wind can trigger beautiful auroras on Earth, but can also disrupt radio and GPS signals, threaten our satellites, and pose a risk to electrical power grids at the surface."

Among the scheduled six balloon flights that started in May and will last through mid-June, four experiments will study different aspects of the Sun’s influence. They will focus on the stretch of sky 60-300 miles (100-50 kilometers) above the surface, where Earth’s upper atmosphere and space meet. In addition to generating new science, balloon experiments like these offer a low-cost way to test new instrument techniques and provide valuable opportunities for early-career scientists to gain hands-on experience, NASA wrote.

Research and weather balloons often endure temperatures as cold as -139°F (-95°C), relative humidities from 0% to 100%, air pressures only a few thousandths of what is found on the Earth's surface, ice, rain, thunderstorms, and wind speeds of almost 200 mph, the NWS explains on their website.

As of this report, it is not yet known if NASA's balloon was recovered after it came down northeast of Chino Valley.

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For many residents, this is the way the NASA research balloon appeared from a distance as it floated over the quad-city area Tuesday night, June 8, 2021. It was carrying instruments that will help scientists understand the connection between the Sun and Earth. (Courier photo)

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