Earlier this week a mysterious, glowing teardrop-shaped object was seen high in the sky above Phoenix.
WPTV News Channel 5 asked its readers, “What was that floating (sometimes stationary) bright, glowing object hovering over the Valley Monday evening? Did you see it? Some thought it was a UFO, a weather balloon or even an alien spaceship.”
Eventually the National Weather Service was asked about it, and their response poured cold water on conspiracy theories about top-secret military craft and extraterrestrial visitation. The strange sight has nothing to do with UFOs or aliens. Instead it’s a HASP 643N — a High Altitude Student Platform balloon sent up to research things like wind patterns and air quality.
It’s a project of the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility, which according to its web site, launches large, unmanned, high-altitude research balloons — and recovers the experiments they carry — for NASA and universities around the world.
Though the Columbia balloon facility is located in Palestine, Texas, the former-UFO HASP balloon was launched from Fort Sumner, N.M. — not far from Roswell, site of a famous 1947 crash of either a Cold War spy balloon project or an alien spacecraft — depending on whom you believe.
This is only the latest of many purported UFO reports near or over the city of Phoenix. In late 2011, for example, four bright lights were seen and videotaped during a high school football game in Scottsdale. The strange lights, which were seen by hundreds of people and videotaped by at least two of them, seemed to move slowly in the sky, sometimes blinking randomly.
The entire sighting lasted for about a minute and a half. The video was posted to YouTube, where within days it became one of the top stories on Yahoo News, sparked “a national mystery” and garnered over 50,000 views.
The mystery was soon solved when a local reporter identified the mysterious lights as >four members of a skydiving team, the Arizona Skyhawks, who jumped with bright magnesium flares for a Halloween show.
In 2008, another set of mysterious lights were sighted. Hundreds of Phoenix residents reported four bright red lights in the sky at about 8 p.m. Those turned out to be a hoax created by road flares tied to helium balloons.
Robert Sheaffer, a UFO investigator with “Skeptical Inquirer” magazine and author of the "Bad UFOs” blog, told Discovery News, “It’s remarkable how so many people, when they see lights in the sky, immediately jump to the conclusion that they might be seeing (an alien spacecraft) … In reality there are many different possible explanations for lights in the sky, all of them more likely than alien visitors.”
It’s a good reminder that just because one or more people can’t identify something in the sky doesn’t mean that it’s unknown or unexplainable.
Indeed, there may be more UFO sightings still to come. Another half-dozen HASP balloon launches are slated for this month, and — depending on weather patterns and where you live — may end up in the skies over your hometown.