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The Alleged Chinese Spy Balloon Is Now Over Missouri. Here’s What We Know About Its Path

3 minute read

The alleged Chinese spy balloon was first spotted over Billings, Montana on Feb. 1, but it has traveled a long way since then—and the military, meteorologists, and amateur observers alike are tracking its position.

By Friday, it appeared to be floating above northwest Missouri and the Kansas City area. The National Weather Service says it has received multiple reports of a “large balloon visible on the horizon.” The agency also posted a picture of the object as seen from its office in Pleasant Hill, Missouri. They confirmed that it is not a NWS weather balloon.

The U.S. has determined that the balloon does not pose a military or physical threat to people on the ground and has so far decided against shooting it down—based on concerns that doing so could risk debris hitting people on the ground.

Senior defense officials said earlier on Friday morning that the balloon was moving southeast slowly from Montana and flying at about 60,000 feet—twice the high of most passenger planes. By midday-they confirmed that the balloon was closer to the center of the U.S. They predict that the balloon will remain in U.S. airspace for several days.

Missouri’s two U.S. senators have already called for the balloon to be taken down. “SHOOT IT DOWN,” tweeted Sen. Josh Hawley.

Kansas Sen. Rodger Marshall tweeted Friday around 1 p.m. ET that the balloon was over northeast Kansas.

CBS meteorologist Ed Russo predicted that “at current speed, the balloon will be off the coast of the Carolinas around noon” on Saturday. His analysis put the balloon as floating south of St. Louis, then through Tennessee, passing north of Nashville, then traveling into the Carolinas near Charlotte before drifting off the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

The Pentagon has said that it is monitoring the aircraft and its direction. NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), whose job is to track threats to Canadian and American airspace, said it was actively tracking the balloon.

Asked by a reporter at a background briefing on Thursday whether the balloon was trying to collect intelligence on siloed nuclear weapons in Montana, a senior defense official confirmed that the balloon’s intent was surveillance. “The current flight path does carry it over a number of sensitive sites,” the official said.

Read More: China Has an Extensive Satellite Network. Here’s Why It May Be Using a Balloon to Spy on the U.S.

Montana is among five states that contain the U.S. military’s land-based, nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missile fields. As a result of the balloon’s flight path, many Montana flights were reportedly diverted or delayed.

U.S. Defense officials say the balloon traveled from China to Alaska and through northwest Canada before arriving in Montana.

Canada’s government published a statement Thursday saying they had detected a high-altitude surveillance balloon. It noted that the would work with the U.S. as the situation developed.

The U.S. expressed “high confidence” that the balloon belonged to China, although the Chinese foreign ministry has dismissed accusations as misguided—saying the balloon is a civilian airship used for meteorological research purposes.

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Write to Sanya Mansoor at sanya.mansoor@time.com