Weather Balloons.

Just two questions: what on earth are weather balloons? And more to the point: why do people keep confusing them for UFO’s?


“Weather Balloons” – NOAA website …

These things measure the various parameters of the atmosphere (temp, RH, pressure, etc etc etc) at altitude … critically important information to understand the three dimensional situation … just measuring these on the ground really limits our understanding of what’s going on …

UFO = unidentified flying object … if someone doesn’t know it’s a weather balloon, then it’s a UFO … just not of extra-terrestrial origin …

Weather balloons carry sounding instruments (radiosonde) aloft. Telemetry is sent back to the ground, and they can also be tracked by RADAR.

When I was on the Space Shuttle Support Team, the Air Force sent up rawinsondes and I collected and processed the data and sent it to JSC.

Well, from the ground and with the sun striking them, they do resemble distinct disks because they are way too far away for you to be able to discern anything else.

They’re also used for all sorts of other high-altitude experiments in addition to studying the weather. The one involved in the Roswell Incident, for instance, carried sensitive microphones designed to detect Russian nuclear tests.

But is it still a “weather balloon” if isn’t carrying meteorological instruments? I think it would just be a high-altitude balloon.

Usually “weather balloon” specifically refers to large rubber (latex) balloons. That’s what they mean when they say Larry Walters flew on a lawn chair with 45 weather balloons tied to it.

In the original “Roswell incident”, it wasn’t that somebody saw a weather balloon in the sky and thought it was an alien spaceship. Rather, someone found the remains of a crashed balloon on a ranch in New Mexico and, for some damn-fool reason, decided that it must be one of them “flying saucers” that were in the news at the time. The debris was from a high altitude balloon, but it wasn’t a weather balloon; rather, it was part of Project Mogul, a top secret U.S. Air Force program to monitor Soviet atomic bomb tests. So, claiming the debris was a “weather balloon” was in fact a cover story, but what was being covered up wasn’t aliens from Outer Space. (I also have the impression the Air Force wasn’t entirely unhappy about the whole “aliens from Outer Space!” story, since it gave a certain degree of “layering” to their cover up.)

Did Larry Walters’ balloons carry meteorological instruments? Aside from Larry himself saying “Damn, it’s cold up here”, I mean.

EDIT: I’ve heard, in fact, that the Air Force deliberately encouraged the talk of aliens, for precisely that reason. Which means that there was a secret government conspiracy involved, but exactly opposite of the one that people thought.

Oh, and as a result of the Roswell incident, “weather balloon” and “flying saucer” got linked to form a meme. Sort of an “Aliens Steal Cattle” situation (in which “alien abductions” and “cattle mutilations” got confused in the popular imagination and/or for satirical purposes).

In the late 1970s, when I was a teenager, we were watching a TV show about UFOs, and they showed this video while the voiceover made a reference to weather balloons. My dad said, “That’s not a weather balloon.”

And he was right. It was later stated to be an asteroid that probably passed through the atmosphere at an altitude of about 40 miles, and had it landed, it could have taken out a city or caused a massive tsunami.

Are weather balloons just used for research? Or research and rocket launches?

Or is there a regular launch schedule with a dozen continuously in air at any given time?

Here’s a map of the launch sites “Observed Sounding Archive” - NOAA Storm Prediction Center … click on the lil’ star and you’ll be given the chart of the data … half dozen times a day from about thirty locations in the USA …