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What was that object in the sky Wednesday?

September 14, 2018

SPEARFISH — What was that bright object in the sky Wednesday night?

Was it a plane? Was it a star? Or was it a UFO arriving just in time for Hulett, Wyo., second annual UFO Festival?

The orb, that appeared higher than any plane would fly and lower than a star, seemed to hover for more than an hour.

This reporter first saw it at 7 p.m. west, southwest of Spearfish high in the sky. It finally disappeared at dark.

During that time, it was visible from Spearfish, Rapid City and beyond.

Then it reappeared Thursday morning — hovering with little movement visible from the bright white anomaly.

Ellsworth Air Force Base officials reported that they knew nothing about it. Employees with the National Weather Service in Rapid City saw it only after receiving a call from the Black Hills Pioneer. They had launched a weather balloon earlier that day, but it went in the opposite direction and it had popped before the new object was reported, so what was it?

People in Fort Collins, Colo., saw two similar objects on Sept. 1.

Ian Petchenik, a media and community relations employee for Flightradar24.com, said what the object was, was likely a stratospheric balloon registered to Raven Aerostar.

Live tracking of the balloon Thursday morning showed it north of Colony, Wyo., traveling into Montana at an altitude of 73,800 feet.

Raven Aerostar, he said, is the company that designs and manufactures the balloons used in X’s Project Loon.

Project Loon is a project designed to expand the Internet to rural parts of the world using a series of balloons hauling equipment 14 miles up.

According to Project Loon’s website, each stratospheric balloon is the size of a tennis court and is designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the great altitudes they travel, ranging from 302ºF to -130ºF.

The balloons are equipped with an inner balloon, and changing the airflow in that inner balloon allows the entire system to raise or lower to take advantage of different wind directions and speeds at different altitudes.

The balloon that was visible from the Northern Black Hills was launched in Casper, Wyo., on Sept. 11.

According to Project Loon, it has already proved itself during a natural disaster. In 2017, Project Loon partnered with Telefonica to provide basic Internet services to tens of thousands of people across Peru who were displaced due to extreme rains and flooding, and then again when it was deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

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