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24 Feb 2024

A mysterious high-altitude balloon that U.S. officials were tracking over the Rocky Mountains on Friday was a “likely hobby balloon” that is no longer in U.S. airspace, the North American Aerospace Defense Command said Saturday.

Balloon Intercepted NORAD

FILE - In this photo released by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a Russian ... [+] Tu-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft, top, is intercepted near the Alaska coastline, Monday, March 9, 2020. A small and nonthreatening balloon spotted flying high over the mountainous Western United States was intercepted by fighter jets over Utah, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. (North American Aerospace Defense Command via AP, File)

Public Domain

The balloon was first spotted over Colorado on Friday and was later intercepted by NORAD fighters over Utah, with the incident occurring a little more than a year after a Chinese spy balloon sparked concern about national security when it floated into U.S. airspace.

But NORAD said in a statement to Forbes on Saturday the balloon was a “likely hobby balloon,” and the agency monitored the balloon “via ground radars until it left U.S. airspace overnight” in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The agency said it had “no additional information on the balloon”—though CNN did cite an anonymous U.S. official who said the balloon was smaller than the Chinese spy balloon.

The agency had previously told Forbes the balloon did not pose a national security threat.

The balloon was found floating at an altitude of 43,000 feet, just higher than the level of a typical commercial jet’s cruising altitude.

When the Chinese spy balloon crossed over U.S. airspace last year, U.S. officials said it posed no threat to civilians, but it drew concern about Chinese surveillance of Americans, especially as some reports suggested the balloon was capable of taking photos that could be transmitted to China. It was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of South Carolina in February of last year. The incident renewed tension between the U.S. and China, with the Biden administration calling the balloon’s flight over U.S. airspace “unacceptable and irresponsible.” China has maintained the balloon was a civilian vessel that had drifted off course.

Reports of the balloon Friday prompted suspicion on social media that the balloon was related to surveillance again. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted: “Shoot down the Spy balloon immediately!!!”