The era of the weather balloon, both a decadesold useful scientific tool and a convenient out for government officials to explain an unidentified flying object, may be coming to an end.
The Associated Press reported last week about how a system of sophisticated sensors attached to passenger airliners may send the balloon the way of the rotary dial telephone, to oblivion.
Oh, yes: And beyond!
In addition to their applications in helping meteorologists track weather patterns, these balloons also served as one of government’s — and Hollywood’s — great scapegoats. No 1950s science fiction movie about invaders from other planets was complete without the obligatory “remain calm, there is no cause for alarm” scene. Some Air Force colonel or general would assure a gathering of anxious reporters and nervous local residents that what they saw zipping across the sky was “probably just a weather balloon.”
Everyone was then told to go home and resume normal lives. Not long after that, of course, the cinematic space aliens began full-scale attacks.
In real life, weather balloons were used as an explanation for what some believed was the crash of a UFO outside Roswell, N.M., in July 1947, according to the Roswell-based International UFO Museum & Research Center’s Web site.
Since the Roswell incident — the recognized dawn of the UFO era — weather balloons have been a quite plausible explanation for folks who believed they saw Something from Out There.
The Valley is not exempt from UFOs with official rationales. It seems that every time local television stations enter a ratings period, at least one of them retells the story of the March 1997 “lights over Phoenix,” with people quoted saying they believed that the glowing objects they saw flying overhead weren’t from here. The government’s earthly explanations of the time involved military aircraft on a training mission.
As vast as is the universe’s array of billions of stars with planets revolving around them, intelligent life from a habitable world is indeed a likely mathematical possibility. But that doesn’t mean everything that isn’t explainable is therefore a candidate for a close encounter of whatever kind.
It could mean that, if the weather balloon is to be retired, the next time something strange crosses the sky, the creative folks in our government just might be called upon to come up with another explanation.