NUFORC Sighting 118845

Occurred: 2015-05-07 20:00 Local
Reported: 2015-05-07 18:56 Pacific
Duration: 20 minutes
No of observers: 3

Location: Fairfax, VA, USA

Shape: Sphere
Characteristics: Emitted other objects, Changed Color, Aircraft nearby

Probable Weather Balloon in Busy Greater DC Airspace

On 7 May, 2015, at about 8 p.m. EDT, while sitting on my patio, I noticed what appeared to be a particularly bright star practically at zenith. At first I suspected it was Venus, but the object didn't act like a star.

I had my wife keep eyes on the object while I retrieved two sets of binoculars, and we both observed the object. The object appeared to resolve as a tiny disk vice a point, so I had my wife continue to observe it while I retrieved my camera. When I returned, she reported that a tiny object appeared to swiftly go by the larger object, while the larger object appeared to remain stationary. I photographed it through a 250mm lens, and the image showed a round bright white object connected to a tiny object by a thin line.

Next, I retrieved my 750mm telescope. My wife reported the object slowly creeping east southeast. Its speed made it difficult to keep up with on the telescope's equatorial mount, and its speed seemed to increase toward the ESE. When I finally got it in view, I observed it through a 7.5mm eyepiece, and it resolved into what appeared to be a white sphere connected to a small object via a dangling cable. The sphere was about 2 times the size of Jupiter through the same eyepiece. The slow speed of the oscillation (>1 second) of the dangling object implied a relatively long line, and the oscillation would occasionally tip the sphere and expose an orange object at the interface between the line and the sphere. My wife, eldest son and I observed for a few minutes.

At this point, I recalled the successful bombing of the mainland U.S. by the Japanese in World War II via hydrogen balloons, so I looked online for where to report this ostensible balloon. I quickly came across the National UFO Reporting Center, so I called them at 8:17 p.m. It was about when I called when the object faded out of view. The center operator requested I write this report, and suggested I call local law enforcement if I was truly concerned. I contacted Fairfax County Police, and they said they couldn't take action if the object were as high as it appeared (whereas they could respond for an aerial object threatening people on the ground, e.g., a rogue quad-copter).

As I was compiling my data for the report, my wife came across a local news channel interview online with the National Weather Service about their radiosonde balloons. The balloons in the video looked much like the object we observed, so I called the UFO reporting center back.

The operator suggested I do a winds aloft check to verify the direction of the object. The local airport at Dulles didn't have an available report online, but the Richmond, VA, and Westminister, MD, airports did. The winds aloft report from Westminister indicated that the balloon probably originated there: for the object to be stationary and then drift east meant that it passed between 18000 and 30000 feet. Moreover, the winds from the surface to 18000 feet would have taken the balloon south and then west, which is where it was relative to Westminister.

Posted 2015-05-08

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