'No indication' shot-down objects are alien spacecraft, White House says

An F-22 jet performing exercises in December 2022. An F-22 took out a Chinese balloon with a Sidewinder missile on Feb. 4, 2023, off the coast of South Carolina.
An F-22 jet performing exercises in December 2022. An F-22 took out a Chinese balloon with a Sidewinder missile on Feb. 4, 2023, off the coast of South Carolina. (Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense)

There's no evidence that the three mysterious objects shot down recently by U.S. fighter jets came from anywhere other than Earth, White House officials said. 

Those jets took out one object just off the coast of northern Alaska on Friday (Feb. 10), one over the Yukon in northwestern Canada on Saturday (Feb. 11) and another above Lake Huron on Sunday (Feb. 12), downing each one with a Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

Not much is known yet about those aerial intruders, but their origin story is likely to be somewhat prosaic. 

"There is no — again — no indication of aliens or other extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a press conference on Monday (Feb. 13).

Related: Previous Chinese spy balloons over US were classified as UFOs: report

The three downed objects were apparently quite different than the huge balloon that an F-22 jet took out off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4. 

That uncrewed airship, whose 200-foot-tall (60 meters) envelope supported a truss about the size of three school buses, was a Chinese surveillance craft, U.S. officials have said. It was flying at around 60,000 feet (18,000 m) when the F-22 hit it with a Sidewinder.

The other three objects were much smaller and were flying considerably lower. The craft shot down on Friday, for example, was about the size of a small car and was cruising along at about 40,000 feet (12,000 m), U.S. officials have said. 

That lower altitude is part of the reason why the U.S. military shot down the mystery trio: They posed a potential threat to civilian aircraft, which fly at similar altitudes. (The Chinese balloon was considerably above the jetliner zone, but its apparent surveillance activities in U.S. airspace put it on the kill list.)

The U.S. military observed the three mystery objects for a spell before shooting them down, gathering some basic information. For example, all three were determined to be uncrewed, and none appeared to be sending any communications signals (though intelligence-gathering work could not be ruled out), said Adm. John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council.

In addition, "we looked to see whether they were maneuvering or had any propulsion capabilities," Kirby said during Monday's press conference. "We saw no signs of that."

Recovery teams are working to find debris from the three objects, which could tell us a lot more about where they came from and what they were doing. That could take a while, however; the northern Alaska and Yukon craft came down in remote and rugged terrain, and the Lake Huron debris is likely in deep water, Kirby said. 

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Unclear Engineer
    It sounds like the latest 3 objects probably have pretty mundane back stories.

    But, without anybody claiming them, it seems that the only way to find out about them is to take physical control of them and investigate them.

    So, I don't criticize the Government, but I do criticize the politicians and media for the additional hype.

    And, I do have to observe that this would be a bad time for SETI to get a close contact. :rolleyes:
  • smitz327
    Seriously, they were checking if they were alien spacecraft?
  • Unclear Engineer
    smitz327 said:
    Seriously, they were checking if they were alien spacecraft?

    Considering the current prevalence of conspiracy theories, the White House was probably hoping to head-off the next round.

    But, given the political climate here in the U.S. these days, all it probably did was provide fodder for the next crazy theory that our President is hiding some alien presence - maybe in a quid pro quo for alien advanced medical capabilities to keep him alive for the second term?

    It would almost be fun to make that kind of stuff up and see how many people fall for it - except that it has negative consequences when the crazies get stirred up.