A US high-altitude research balloon is now among the world’s most tracked aircraft after thousands of internet users mistook it for the alleged Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over the western state of Montana.
More than 4,000 users followed every move of “N257TH,” a standard high-altitude research balloon that is often launched over the United States, according to FlightRadar24. In response, the popular plane-tracking website said in a tweet Saturday that it updated its label for the American balloon, adding that the object was “not a Chinese balloon.”
The fate of the balloon, as it floats 10 miles above the ground, remains uncertain, as do the delicate relations between two superpowers seeking ways to reduce tensions and get talks back on track. Authorities in the southern Montana city of Billings issued a statement refuting the veracity of a video purporting to show an explosion and the balloon crashing to the ground after it went viral on Twitter and was shared by cable news networks.