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Unravelling the conspiracies about America’s UFO sightings

The truth is out there

Over the last couple of years, America has faced up to the decades-long taboo about UFOs, and gradually dedicated more time and resources to researching the mysterious objects in our skies. And, lo and behold, the US government spotted something interesting hovering over Montana earlier this month... and promptly shot it down. By now, you’ve probably already heard the working theory about the Chinese surveillance balloon, sent to spy on US soil from above.

Earlier this week, the US military said that it had managed to retrieve wreckage from the suspected surveillance balloon that it shot down off the coast of South Carolina on February 4 (after waiting for it to float over the ocean in order to avoid pieces falling onto land). “Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site,” said US Northern Command in a statement on Monday. “Including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure.”

China, however, has denied the accusation that it’s been using balloons to spy on Americans, claiming that it was actually intended for civilian purposes and drifted into the US by accident. Moreover, the country says that the US has been peeking over its borders with high-altitude balloons for years.

Whose story are we supposed to believe? Well, at this point it’s basically a case of trusting one global superpower over the other, and neither are known to be particularly reliable. That’s not to mention the conspiracies about aliens and government psyops that have proliferated online, or the fact that the so-called Chinese surveillance balloon was just the beginning. Yes, in case you haven’t heard: several more UFOs have been shot down over North America in the last week, including an “octagonal” flying object over Lake Huron, Michigan, and high-altitude UFOs over Canada’s Yukon territory and Deadhorse, Alaska.

What does it all mean? Is North America really being swarmed by Chinese surveillance balloons? Could it actually be a swarm of aliens, preparing to whisk us off our festering space rock or zap us out of existence? We want to believe.


Aliens are what most people immediately think of when they hear the word “UFO” – despite the actual definition being a little bit broader – and are, undeniably, the most enticing option. With mysterious objects floating over the US (AKA the epicentre of UFO sightings since UFO sightings began) it’s no surprise that a good portion of the speculation has been devoted to little green men.

The excitement of amateur ufologists was only heightened over the weekend, when Glen VanHerck, who oversees the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told a journalist that he wasn’t prepared to dismiss the possibility of aliens just yet. “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out,” he said. “I haven’t ruled out anything.”

Unfortunately, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has since publicly stated that there’s “no indication” of aliens or extraterrestrial activity related to the recent takedowns. Although National Security Council’s John Kirby couldn’t say what the objects actually are, he has also stated: “I don’t think the American people need to worry about aliens.”

But that’s what the government would say if they wanted to cover up aliens infiltrating our airspace en masse, right?


As usual, the reality is probably much duller (and dumber) than alien contact. When Montana man Chase Doak posted a video of the OG balloon on February 1, it was seemingly the first time anyone had paid attention to the floating orb, despite the US military and other institutions scanning the skies 24/7 with sophisticated radar systems. The conclusion? They’d simply failed to take such small, slow-moving objects into account. 

After making some adjustments, more of these objects started coming into view, such as the UFOs above Michigan, Alaska, and the Yukon – which could actually be benign, after all. Although it seems like UFOs are converging on North America, the likely story is that they’ve been there for some time, and people just haven’t been looking for them. A statement made on Sunday by Melissa Dalton, the US assistant secretary of defence, backs up this theory. “We have been more closely scrutinising our airspace at these altitudes, including enhancing our radar,” she explained. “Which may at least partly explain the increase in objects.”

The US government has offered few official theories about how long giant balloons have been floating under the radar, but it’s safe to say that there are a lot of them right now – either civilian or otherwise. If they want to shoot down every one, then they’ll have a big job on their hands.


As UFO rumours grew last week, discussion forums were flooded with posts by enthusiasts whose life goal is to get beamed up by a flying saucer. Thanks to the renewed interest, experts have advised that the UK is also in for a new wave of “sightings”, which will mostly amount to people going out into the garden and getting excited about satellites and stray birthday paraphernalia.

The possibility that foreign surveillance balloons have drifted into UK airspace has also triggered a security review, meaning that increased discoveries are likely, as in the US. Rishi Sunak has confirmed that jets are always on standby in case an airborne object needs to be shot down (now might not be the time for that romantic hot air balloon trip you were planning).


The rash of UFOs over North America puts US conspiracy theorists in something of a difficult spot, since it places a few of their favourite suspicions – namely, the existence of aliens, the interference of foreign powers, and domestic government psyops – at odds. 

In fact, many of the usual UFO-loving suspects (read: right-wing podcast bros) have flipped the script in the past few days, proposing that the US government’s UFO sightings are manufactured or overblown to distract from more down-to-Earth issues. Even the congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who once claimed that she couldn’t have been at the January 6 insurrection because she was abducted by a Jewish spaceship, has hinted that UFOs are being used to lead citizens away from the real issues.


As the “Chinese spy balloon” and its various spin-off conspiracy theories have dominated headlines over the last week, it’s undeniable that the story comes at a convenient time for the US government. More specifically, it’s pulled significant media attention away from the disastrous train derailment in Palestine, Ohio, which has seen toxic chemicals rain down on the surrounding area.

On February 3, a freight train carrying 20 cars of hazardous substances derailed near East Palestine, prompting fears about lasting environmental damage, and the risk of illnesses including cancer for residents. It’s already been reported that pets and other animals have become sick or died since the derailment and subsequent controlled detonation. Nevertheless, Ohio governor Mike DeWine claims that it’s safe for residents to return to their homes. Alongside the train company, authorities have been criticised for their relative silence on the derailment and its fallout, while others have called for accountability over the lack of regulations that allowed the disaster to take place. 

We’re not saying that the UFOs are a coordinated effort to swing the spotlight away from this disaster; two things can happen at once. If you were thinking of spending the next few hours comparing pictures of balloons to snapshots taken around Area 51, though, then your time is probably better spent catching up with what’s happening in Ohio.

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