A UFO Over China?! Well, No.

By Alexis C. Madrigal
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http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/07/a-ufo-over-china-well-no/60044/


A purported unidentified flying object in the skies of Hangzhou, China has drawn attention from international media. Earlier this month, the local airport was shut down for about an hour when an odd twinkling object was spotted in the sky.

Because people love a good UFO story, the news of the airport shutdown has rippled outwards from the Chinese town. A Fox News affiliate posted a video it claimed came from the incident, and the LA Times bought that interpretation and posted it, too.

It's a gorgeous video. But there's just one problem. It wasn't taken over Hangzhou, but Kazakhstan, says Geoffrey Forden, an MIT weapons analyst, who is often called upon to analyze mysterious rocket launches and other real unidentified flying objects. 

"Unfortunately, this video is not from Hangzhou but from Kazakhstan and was taken on June 30th and shows a Progress M launch from the Baikonur," Forden said. The rocket seen here, in other words, was a routine launch to resupply the International Space Station. "It looks so strange because the upper stages have already left the earths atmosphere and the plume has expanded to many kilometers. It's very unusual to see this from the Earth's surface (and very
interesting since it shows the transition from one stage to another) but it is not a black-ops rocket at all."

The rest of the UFO story falls apart in a similar way. Forden debunked the alien conspiracists on his fascinating blog, Arms Control Wonk. It's tough to get a handle on what people really saw in the sky -- and photoshopped pictures proliferate immediately -- but the likeliest scenario, it turns out, is that the Great Twinkling Light of Hangzhou was actually a Chinese ballistic missile, the DF-21.

Video: LA Times.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/07/a-ufo-over-china-well-no/60044/