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Meteorologists are dutifully tracking the location of the Chinese balloon

The Chinese balloon is drawing the attention of meteorologists across the United States.
Larry Mayer
/
AP
The Chinese balloon is drawing the attention of meteorologists across the United States.

Meteorologists are tracking an unlikely fixture in the sky this weekend: a balloon from China that is the latest subject of national security concerns in the United States.

The balloon, which is reportedly being used for research purposes, accidentally went off course and is now floating over U.S. airspace, according to China's Foreign Affairs Ministry. But it's causing havoc in the realm of U.S. national security: The Defense Department claims the balloon is actually being used for surveillance — and this conflicting view even led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone a trip to Beijing. The balloon's presence comes at a time of increased tension between China and the U.S. over national security.

The balloon, which U.S. officials began tracking east from Montana, is now somewhere over the continental United States. And while officials are saying the balloon poses zero threat to civilians, it is garnering attention as meteorologists and amateur observers track its route.

Meteorologists, storm chasers and fans of strange phenomena have all shared photos and videos of the balloon online. The hashtags #ChineseSpyBalloon and #ChinaBalloon have also gained traction on Twitter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created a graphic showing the balloon's course, while one meteorologist in Raleigh, N.C., shared an illustration showing that the balloon is projected to fly over North Carolina by Saturday.

The National Weather Service's regional headquarters in Kansas City, Mo., said the balloon could be seen from its office in Pleasant Hill on Friday afternoon.

"We have confirmed that it is not an NWS weather balloon," it tweeted.

A meteorologist in Salisbury, Md., shared a forecast from NOAA showing the balloon's projected route over the next 72 hours. The scientist, Dan Satterfield, said the route could change.

"IF it can be raised and lowered, the track might vary quite a bit," Satterfield tweeted. "It would have to be lowered into the commercial air lanes though to change it a lot."

As U.S. and Chinese officials continue to disagree over the balloon's purpose and the plans to deal with it, it's clear that, meanwhile, many people will be dutifully watching the balloon's progress.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.