This past weekend, the United States shot down three foreign flying objects over Alaska, Canada, and Michigan. The destruction of these objects comes just a few days after the United States also shot down a Chinese spy balloon over South Carolina. The government has not provided abundant details regarding the nature of these objects, leaving people clambering for information. With theories ranging from Chinese spy crafts to aliens, here is everything we do know about this new wave of unidentified aerial phenomena, and what it all means for our national security. 

The most recent object was spotted by radar on Saturday over Montana, and again on Sunday. After obtaining visual confirmation, the order was made to shoot it down as its altitude posed a risk to civilian aircraft. 

Lower altitude was a common characteristic of the objects, as each traveled at about 20,000 feet off the ground. For context, the Chinese spy balloon hovered at around 60,000 feet, 20,000 feet above the highest civilian aircraft. It was this higher altitude that allowed the government to wait a week before bringing it down. 

As to the nature of the objects, not much is known. The first was mostly destroyed after being shot down, and the last was described as an "octagonal structure with strings hanging off." While neither of those are thought to have been balloons, American officials believe that the middle object was. It is believed that none of the objects were carrying any kind of payload. 

When asked if the objects may have been extraterrestrial in origin, Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander of the Air Force’s Northern Command said, “I haven’t ruled out anything at this point.” Later on, however, other officials were adamant that the objects were man-made. 

The desire to jump to conclusions, especially supernatural ones, is a problem when it comes to properly handling the security of our airspace. Luis Elizondo, the man who ran the Pentagon's U.F.O. program until 2017, says that the U.S. must strike a compromise between monitoring our airspace, and “chasing our tail” on insignificant objects. 

Tyler Rogoway, a writer for "The WARZONE," says that our habit to classify everything in the sky as "UFOs" has blinded us to the reality of foreign powers sending objects to spy on us. In a piece titled, Adversary Drones Are Spying On The U.S. And The Pentagon Acts Like They’re UFOs, Rogoway described the trend two years ago. Now, the problem is even worse. "Our adversaries have used our stigmas toward UFOs against us and yes the government was way behind the curve in realizing any of this," he says in a Twitter thread.

He goes on to detail that in the modern age of American air superiority, foreign powers are finding new ways to infiltrate our airspace, using much more antiquated technology. The Chinese balloon is a perfect example of this, as it was allowed to drift over the mainland United States for significantly longer than a drone or traditional aircraft would have been.

Foreign powers like China might not even care about the objects themselves, but rather our reaction to them. When we notice them we shoot them down, and how we publicize that information is all intelligence that other nations can use to study our air defense systems. 

While UFOs and Chinese aggression are the talking points of the moment, it is important to remember not to overreact to the news. The three objects from this past weekend were only detected after the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD decided to increase monitoring following the Chinese balloon. Objects have been floating around the skies for a long time, and they will continue to do so; they do not present an immediate threat. Just because we are now publicly learning more about U.S. Air Force operations does not mean that they are different than they always have been. 

Just remember that the answer is not aliens. As Rogoway says, we need to "work to better separate truly unexplainable events from those that are actually very low-end technology that is so simple it is somewhat alien based on our established defensive posture. And above all else, getting rid of this totally [messed up] stigma about reporting things in the sky, in space, on or below the oceans, that are unusual, especially by our military personnel."