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.

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

  1. I was your follower on Twitter and lucky enough to have you as my follower as well, until I got a 12 hour suspension in February of last year when I replied to a pro-Putin account that was cheering on all the Ukrainian blood that was sure to flow. At that time, I said I hoped said twitterer was part of the blood that would be spilled. Twitter didn’t like that, and wanted me to take the post down. I have not posted on Twitter since, figuring that I was getting too involved with the platform.

    Thought about breaking down and deleting that tweet, but then Elon bought the platform, so that as they say was that.

    I am looking forward to reading your work elsewhere.

    Ann Lund (07bbd6)

  2. They should let you write at/for the Dispatch. I think you would generate a good following there. Of course that calls into question whether you need or want a following.

    AJ_Liberty (5f05c3)

  3. Congratulations on getting a vacation in. Hope it was relaxing and fun. Am scanning Chinese social media for you, looking for your photos

    steveg (45ec05)

  4. Chinese are just helpfully facilitating uploading to “the cloud”

    steveg (45ec05)

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

    That story is from Friday, February 3. The picture of the balloon that goes with it is of another balloon: The (first) balloon over Montana, taken on Wednesday, February 1, about the time it became noticeable, and the Pentagon, which wants to be open now about Unidentified Flying Objects (now called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena or UAP’s to be more inclusive decided it had to go a little public.

    At the time they said China had sent balloons over 40 countries (over time) but we haven’t heard anything more about other balloons.

    The first one, which was flying at around 60,000 feet, was first spotted over Alaska on January 28 (this may have been really realized after a delay) and then turned south and crossed over Canada and entered the United States by Idaho. President Biden was briefed about it on Tuesday February 1. It later was over Kansas and Missouri (Friday) and was expected to take several days to reach the East Coast, but evidently made a run for it, (the Chinese government was evidently reading the public debate about what Biden should do with it) and was shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon February 4. They also took photos of it with a U-2 spy plane while it was in the air. It has now been confirmed that it was a surveillance balloon and had components inside that were made in USA and ahd labeling in English. They are getting ready to boycott dome Chinese companies. It is believed to have been launched from Hainan Island.

    There have been three more objects shot down that traveled over the USA since, one on Friday (Feb 10), one on Saturday and one on Sunday. They are different from the first one and were flying much lower (at around 20,000 feet) and smaller and they are not prepared to say they were balloons – they might also have been drones) or even Chinese or even military. The US radar has been tweaked to call attention to them. They were mostly interested in spotting incoming missiles or airplanes before.

    The first one was shot down north of Alaska and was made of metal (or its payload was) and broke apart and fell into icy or frozen over water. The second one was cigar shaped and was shot down over Yukon.

    The third one was first spotted over Montana, and planes were sent to take a look at it but they couldn’t find it so they said merely that it was a radar anomaly. Then they spotted it again over Wisconsin, followed it to Michigan and shot it down over Lake Huron. It fell in the Canadian portion of the lake. This was octagon shaped with strings attached and appeared to have no payload (or possibly lost it?)

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  6. I’m looking forward to reading more posts by you, Patterico!

    Today, China accused the U.S. of having flown spy balloons into their airspace more than 10 since last January. Obviously without their permission. They also asserted that it is “common for U.S. balloons to illegally enter other countries’ airspace,” and that the U.S. “us[ed] warships and planes to gather intelligence on China 657 times since the start of last year.” They claim that this proves that the U.S. is “without a doubt the world’s largest surveillance habitual offender and surveillance empire.”

    Lol, #4.

    Dana (1225fc)


    …U.S. officials said this week that the balloon program has operated out of multiple locations in China.

    At a news conference on Wednesday, Brig Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said that over the past several years Chinese balloons have been spotted operating over Latin America, South America, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Europe.

    “This is what we assess as part of a larger Chinese surveillance balloon program,” General Ryder said.

    Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said at another news conference in Washington that the State Department has shared information on the spy balloon program with dozens of countries, both in meetings in Washington and through U.S. embassies abroad.

    “We’re doing so because the United States was not the only target of this broader program, which has violated the sovereignty of countries across five continents,” he said.

    The balloons have some advantages over the satellites that orbit the earth in regular patterns, U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, say. They fly closer to earth and drift with wind patterns, which are not as predictable to militaries and intelligence agencies as the fixed orbits of satellites, and they can evade radar. They can also hover over areas while satellites are generally in constant motion. Simple cameras on balloons can produce clearer images than those on orbital satellites, and other surveillance equipment can pick up signals that do not reach the altitude of satellites.

    On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported details about the surveillance program, including that it had operated partly out of the main island of Hainan Province off China’s south coast….

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)


    The Chinese balloon that transfixed America in recent days was no surprise to Cheng Ming-dean. “This balloon has been appearing for a long time!” the head of Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau wrote on Facebook on Saturday, {Feb. 4] pointing to a picture of the same kind of balloon taken by an agency employee in September 2021…

    The Pentagon has said it has observed a second balloon over Central and South America, without elaborating, and stressed that China had been operating a number of surveillance balloons in recent years.

    They “are all part of a [Chinese] fleet of balloons developed to conduct surveillance operations, which have also violated the sovereignty of other countries”, a US defence official said. “These kinds of activities are often undertaken at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army. Over the past several years, Chinese balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in Asia, South Asia and Europe.”

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  9. Patterico, I took a similar trip to Costa Rica 20 years ago. I wanted a cheap beach vacation. (Some guy on the plane told me that Costa Rica was a poor man’s Hawaii. I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.)

    I stayed in a VRBO between Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park. I had a balcony with a hammock, and a view (partially obstructed of the Pacific Ocean). It was a delightful trip. The beach in the park was incredible. The people in Costa Rica seemed so pleasant and happy. Like you, I saw three kinds of monkeys there. I also saw one sloth.

    The bus ride between Quepos and San Jose, however, was hell on earth. There was hardly any legroom. I’m somewhat tall (6’2″), but I guess that counts as inordinate height in Costa Rica. The only way I could sit down was to make a big “V” with my knees. On top of that, the road was full of twists and turns, and I am prone to carsickness. Wretched times. I should have bribed somebody in the front seats to switch places. If I go back, I’m going to rent a car or fly to Quepos.

    norcal (7345e5)

  10. My favorite bus ride was from Granada, Nicaragua to Rivas during heavy rain. Somebody passed us with a poor rain soaked monkey tied to the roof of their car, the bus stops were all lagoons. A lady got on, sat next to me with a hugely swollen hand. She’d been struck by a scorpion while reaching for wood to fire up her kitchen in the early AM. She cooked everyone breakfast and then took the bus to the market in Rivas… which was also on the far side of a rain puddle/lagoon. The bus I was transferring to was on the other side of the market, so the lady let me carry her empty bag into the market. I got to San Juan del Sur in time for a rain breaking sunset. I wish to be 1/2 as tough as that woman I met on the bus.

    I took a bus from San Jose down to Dominical, Costa Rica and then on to Puerto Jimenez. It was an old US school bus with no padding on the seats. Also took a bus from Liberia to Santa Teresa (pre-Tom Brady Beach house) beach area. It was so rough of a ride I shared a hired car when I went north across the Rio Bongo to Playa Coyote. It was low tide so they drove us along the beach and we forded the Rio Bongo which has salt water crocodiles (I didn’t see them at the ford)

    steveg (99fc95)

  11. Even on my “Latest” Twitter threads–not Following, but Latest–I still feel like I’m seeing only a fraction of the folks I follow. Something’s really wrong over there, Musk denying who I’m seeing like him denying Ukrainians access to his Starlink.

    Paul Montagu (8f0dc7)

  12. China published a scientist promoting the balloon flights back in 2019. (although not giving it a military purpose)

    Headline in the printed paper:

    Scientist Eager
    To Scan Globe
    At 60,000 Feet

    Central Role in China’s
    Balloon Program

    In 2019, years before a hulking high-altitude Chinese balloon floated across the United States and caused widespread alarm, one of China’s top aeronautics scientists made a proud announcement that received little attention back then: His team had launched an airship more than 60,000 feet into the air and sent it sailing around most of the globe, including across North America.

    The scientist, Wu Zhe, told a state-run news outlet at the time that the “Cloud Chaser” airship was a milestone in his vision of populating the upper reaches of the earth’s atmosphere with steerable balloons that could be used to provide early warnings of natural disasters, monitor pollution or carry out airborne surveillance.

    “Look, there’s America,” Professor Wu said in an accompanying video, pointing on a computer screen to a red line that appeared to trace the airship’s path across Asia, northern Africa, and near the southern edge of the United States. By the time of the report, it was over the Pacific Ocean….

    ….Until recently, China’s long-distance high-altitude balloon flights drew little attention, perhaps partly a testament to their success in staying off the radars of foreign governments….

    Chinese language video, dated August 21, 2019:

    August 21m 2019 Chinese language news story, linked to by the New York Times in the online version of its front page article, (second lead – the one to the left – the lead story is about the protest in Israel against the government’s proposed court reform)

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  13. Staying off the radars maybe both figuratively and literally.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  14. Feb. 17, 2023 front cover of “The Week” magazine with Xi Jing Ping (Winnie the Pooh) and his balloon.

    Sammy Finkelman (0ac4d7)

  15. Re: 12 The question is, why was this about the whole ballon program ever published?

    I think the answer is that what is censored is a state secret.

    Many things are published for limited circulation, and unless it gets amplified by the media or social media the censors don’t know about it.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  16. I wonder if NORAD is seeing other things similar to the last three they shot down, but no longer shooting them down “in an abundance of caution.”

    Or else, they’d be shooting things down up to several times a week

    They are not prepared yet to say what they were not, except that the last three:

    1) were not built by aliens from outer space, because that is impossible. Too long to get here, and no positive evidence.

    2) were not put up by any part of the U.S. government, because they polled all possible agencies.

    3) were not spy balloons, Chinese or otherwise, because, unlike the big balloon, they emitted no communications, had no propulsion to maneuver or stay in place, and had no signs of anything to soy with.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d0cae)

  17. President Biden, acceding to requests by aides, is expected to make some sort of public statement about the UAPs, most likely sometime today, but no specific time has been scheduled or announced,

    Sammy Finkelman (1d0cae)


    Biden: Objects Shot Down Likely Weren’t Spying

    President doesn’t definitively identify craft [the word “craft” here is plural – SF] shot down after Chinese balloon

    By Bob Cronin, Newser Staff

    Posted Feb 16, 2023 4:15 PM CST

    President Biden told the nation Thursday that the three objects the US shot down most recently while flying over North America don’t appear to be connected to Chinese spying. The Air Force on Feb. 4 downed a balloon off the coast of South Carolina that apparently was sent by the Chinese government to spy. The US has taken down three more still-unidentified objects since then, but Biden said “nothing right now suggests they’re related to China’s spy balloon program,” the Wall Street Journal reports, though he didn’t quite say what they were. “But make no mistake,” the president said in a televised address, “if any object presents a threat to the safety and security of the American people, I will take it down.”

    The objects probably were launched by private companies or research institutions, he said, per the New York Times. Nevertheless, Biden said new guidelines will be developed for determining when such objects pose a danger to the country and require military action. He said there’s no reason to think that more objects are filling the skies, instead suggesting that changes in the handling of radar data has led to more craft being spotted. He said crews are still recovering the pieces of the Chinese balloon. Soon, Biden said, he expects to have a conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping about the flyover. “The violation of our sovereignty is unacceptable,” Biden said.

    Mr. Biden said there was no evidence that there has been “a sudden increase in the number of objects in the sky.”

    Which should mean they have since seen more of them, but they’re not shooting them down.

    They are still guessing as what they in fact were.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

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