Buyers of the earthly explanation for whatever fell from the sky in Roswell, N.M. back in 1947 are likely to appreciate the reaction of a South African farmer who recently came across what he assumed to be a crashed weather balloon.
In this case, however, the confusion proved only temporary.
From a Wall Street Journal account:
According to a report Thursday in the Afrikaans-language Beeld newspaper, Urbanus Botha, who farms in the arid landscape of the Karoo south of Bloemfontein and Lesotho in the center of South Africa, came across the crashed balloon and initially thought it a weather balloon from the nearby weather station at De Aar. He called up the station’s office but nobody picked up, so he packed it into his pickup truck, thinking that its plastic could come in handy as he planned to repaint his shed.
“The huge piece of plastic filled my whole van,” Botha said.
Botha didn’t know what to make of the balloon, especially since it contained several electronic components. His 20-year-old daughter, Sarita, was just as intrigued, and took photos of the balloon on her smartphone, sending them to her brothers John, 30, and Benny, 27. The brothers identified the words “Made in the USA” and “Google X” on the pictures, and so Googled “Google X” and balloons.
“We realized the balloon was part of the Google Loon Project,” Sarita told Beeld.
Project Loon is a Google undertaking designed to provide Internet access to remote areas around the world that might otherwise be left wanting.
Here is Google’s website explaining the project?
So what exactly crashed onto this farmers land? From Wikipedia:
The balloon envelopes used in the project are made by Raven Aerostar, and are composed of polyethylene plastic about 3 mil or 0.076 mm (0.0030 in) thick. The balloons are superpressure balloons filled with helium, stand 15 m (49 ft) across and 12 m (39 ft) tall when fully inflated, and carry a custom air pump system dubbed the "Croce" that pumps in or releases air to ballast the balloon and control its elevation. A small box weighing 10 kg (22 lb) containing each balloon's electronic equipment hangs underneath the inflated envelope. This box contains circuit boards that control the system, radio antennae and a Ubiquiti Networks Rocket M2 to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennae on the ground, and batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate during the night.
That’s the story, at least until the UFO crowd weighs in with an alternative version.
(Update: Turns out Google is now launching 20 of these balloons daily, they stay in the air about 100 days and they're not supposed to be picked up by farmers.)
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