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East Tennessee ‘UFO’ identity a mystery

East Tennesseans were surprised to see a mystery flying object flying high above Wednesday night.
‘UFO’ captures attention above East Tennessee
‘UFO’ captures attention above East Tennessee(Nate Nelson Photography)
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 8:39 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2022 at 5:05 PM CDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - East Tennesseans were surprised to see a mystery flying object flying high above Wednesday night. The object appeared to be a circle of lights and caused several viewers to call into WVLT’s newsroom asking what it might be.

Nate Nelson of Nate Nelson Photography managed to capture the object on camera.

‘UFO’ captures attention above East Tennessee
‘UFO’ captures attention above East Tennessee(Nate Nelson Photography)

According to FlightAware, a company that tracks domestic and international flights, the object was an Alphabet Loon balloon. Alphabet is the parent company of Google. Loon LLC, another company headed by Alphabet, ran the balloons as part of a project aimed at increasing internet access. FlightAware lists the object as “Project Loon 593″ and classifies it as one of the tennis court-sized balloons.

WVLT News reached out to a representative from Alphabet, Scott Coriell, who said the object was not a Loon Balloon. “Loon was actually wound down in early 2021 and has not flown any balloons since last year,” Coriell said.

Kathleen Bangs, a representative with FlightAware and former pilot, later told WVLT News that the object was indeed a balloon, but she was not sure what it was being used for or who owned it. She did mention that the balloon’s flight path was “erratic” and said it averaged an elevation of 60,000 feet- much higher than a commercial plane would fly.

WVLT News also reached out to the Federal Aviation Administration and asked if they might know what the object was. “The FAA has nothing out of the ordinary to report,” representative Elizabeth Isham said. She did not clarify further, but the balloon’s “N-number,” a type of flying object serial number, is registered to the company Raven Aerostar.

Roane State Professor Ted Stryk spoke to WVLT News about the balloon. He worked with NASA on their New Horizon mission, which sent a probe past Pluto in 2015. He said it was likely a weather balloon. “My guess would be that’s what that is. One was sighted in Chattanooga in January during the day,” Stryk said. “I really can’t imagine what else this would be.”

He did say it was odd that no one has claimed ownership, however. “It’s strange that we can’t figure out who was doing it and nobody seems to be aware of it,” Stryk said. He also recommended that people keep their eyes on the sky. “Keep looking up there. We may see it again,” he said.

Congressman and self-appointed UFO enthusiast Tim Burchett also commented on the incident, saying “the reason you don’t see any UFOs above our nation’s capital is because they can’t find signs of intelligent life here.”

No companies or manufacturers have claimed ownership of the balloon. The flying object remains, at least for now, unidentified.

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