A "mysterious" object that spurred articles in the Arizona Republic and elsewhere turned out to be a giant research balloon -- which was exactly what it looked like in pictures.
UFOs spin almost as much fun as Bigfoot in the media, and Arizona has been hyper-fertile ground for sightings since the ludicrous case of mass mistaken identity in 1997 known as the Phoenix Lights. Making this latest UFOs-in-the-news story special was the photo of the orb at right, serendipitously taken by folks at the seven-month-old Ye Olde UFO Store in Sedona.
We pegged this one right away as a balloon -- not only does it resemble one, but we've seen this kind of thing before. In 2004, a 460-foot research balloon made out of the same material as garbage bags sparked a similar round of "news" articles. The $300,000 lighter-than-air craft gathered information about the remnants of stars that exploded millions of years ago.
The science of the balloons often goes unreported in these articles about UFOs, but it's far more interesting than the typical "we are not alone" poppycock. We left a message at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, which launched both the 2004 balloon and yesterday's UFO. They haven't called back yet, (just busy... or alien abduction?)
[Update May 20: The facility's boss did eventually get back to us.]
Meantime, we chatted with Jennifer McCoy of Sedona, who opened Ye Olde UFO Store in November with her longtime boyfriend, Doug Everett. They're former real estate brokers from Oregon who moved to Arizona two years ago. She has experience in printing T-shirts, and they both know how to run a business -- now they sell UFO paraphernalia. Balloon or not, the pair scored a marketing home run after their picture was picked up by the news media.
"It's awesome," McCoy says of the unexpected exposure.
McCoy wants to talk about how the object she saw may or may not have been a balloon, and if it was a balloon, how it might not be some harmless research project. She admits the thing "is probably what they've been saying," but it's more fun to ask the questions.
And in Sedona, she hardly needed to have added, people love asking those questions.