Patterico's Pontifications


I Saw the (More Accurately, “A”) Balloon!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:18 am

Mrs. P. and I returned from a trip to Costa Rica last week. While we were there, we saw the balloon with our own eyes! At least, the one over Costa Rica.

We were staying at our resort near Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park. The resort is a great place for wildlife, with numerous sloths on the property. Howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and Capuchin monkeys are a common sight — not to mention toucans and other unique wildlife. We were down at the beach area when we saw one of the workers pointing to either the trees or the sky and talking to a beachgoer. I figured he was pointing out a sloth or monkeys, and decided to finish my lunch before looking into it further.

We then asked the beachgoer what the guy had been pointing out, and she said it was a comet. (!) She said it was white but you couldn’t see it anymore, it had gone down behind the trees. Amusingly, the worker had said it was “Halley’s Comet.” OK, that was clearly wrong, but maybe there was another comet visible?

Back at our room, we researched the issue. It turns out that Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) had been at its closest approach to Earth — some 25 million miles (about 1/4 the distance to the sun) — the night before. It had last been seen 50,000 years ago by the Neanderthals. We had not seen it the night before. Bummer! Maybe if we kept our eyes open as we walked around we could see it. Odd thing, though: it was green and by all reports only visible at night. The beachgoer had reported seeing something white during the day.

We decided to go for a walk. We went to a high area with a nice view of the coastline and surrounding area. The place the guy had pointed had clouds and I saw no comet. We started talking to some folks who had seen it the night before. They described it as green. Then one of them pointed at the sky. “There it is. But it looks white now.”

He pointed, and there it was.

“That’s a comet?” I said. “It looks like a balloon.”

This did not look like any object that was 25 million miles away. It was pretty big — the size of a very distant jetliner — and perfectly white and round. It did not look like a star. It looked much, much bigger than a star. And it looked close. Not millions of miles away, but more like 10-15 miles away. I thought: if that’s a comet, it’s one HUGE and perfectly round ball of ice.

I thought about taking a photo, but meh. It would just look like a white dot in a photo.

We went back to our room again, and I found this story:

An unidentified white object was spotted in the skies above Costa Rica on Thursday as the US military reported tracking a suspected Chinese hot-air surveillance balloon flying over the northern United States.

On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed reports that a similar balloon was “transiting Latin America”, without specifying its location.

“We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said.

Pictures and videos of the object seen from Costa Rica were shared on social media — with some users in the country speculating that it may have come from space.

Twitter user Eduardo Costa said the “UFO was also seen in Costa Rica” while Manuel Hernandez said it could be seen from the towns of Zapote and Grecia in the Alajuela Province.

That’s not far from where we were. I looked at the pictures. It was definitely what we had seen.

I have no Deep Thoughts from you about The Balloon (or The Balloon II) except: if this is what the one over the U.S. looked like, it was hardly that surreptitious. I mean, this thing grabbed your attention. It looked smaller than any hot air balloon I had ever seen, and shaped more roundly. Imagine a perfectly round hot air balloon that had kept rising towards space and got 3 times higher than any hot air balloon you had ever seen. It really wasn’t something you’d miss.

The Chinese need to work on their camouflage. Maybe paint the next one light blue.

P.S. It’s been a while, but more than likely you’ll hear from me more often in the future, mainly because I intend to step back from Twitter. More about that soon.

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