The ongoing UFO saga over North America, which has seen the downing of three unknown aerial objects in as many days by US fighter jets, has led to wild speculation about what they were and where they came from.
The speculation intensified on Sunday (12 February), when the US Air Force general overseeing North American airspace said he would not rule out aliens or any other explanation, instead deferring to US intelligence experts. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing after a US F-16 fighter jet shot down an octagonal-shaped object over Lake Huron on the US-Canada border, General Glen VanHerck said he hadn’t “ruled out anything.”
"I’m not going to categorise them as balloons,” General VanHerck said, only adding to the mystery. “We’re calling them objects for a reason.”
So could it really be? Visitors from another galaxy? A malevolent space-faring species come to keep a close eye on our Earthly goings on? Here is everything you need to know.
Were they UFOs?
Since UFO stands for "Unidentified Flying Object”, and until debris can be recovered and studied from the remote crash sites of the stricken objects, the US will remain unsure of their origin or ownership, the three most recently downed objects can still technically be classified as UFOs.
But that does not mean that they are extra-terrestrial in origin, or born of some as yet unidentified alien technology. Indeed, any speculation that our planet had been visited by aliens was quickly put to rest at the top of a press briefing held at the White House on Monday (13 February).
“I know there’s been questions and concerns about this, but there is no - again, no - indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at the outset of the briefing, before handing over to White House national security spokesman, John Kirby.
“Would you tell us if there was?” joked one reported in attendance.
Has Earth been visited by aliens?
US officials have said they still know very little about the three objects downed Friday (10 February) off the coast of Alaska, Saturday over Canada and Sunday over Lake Huron. But although officials have not yet been able to "definitively assess" the objects items, it has not been ruled out that they may have been carrying out surveillance.
The shootdowns have been part of a more assertive response to aerial phenomena following the balloon episode, blamed on an ongoing Beijing "balloon programme for intelligence collection" with links to the Chinese military that went undetected under the previous Trump administration.
"We detected it. We tracked it, and we have been carefully studying it to learn as much as we can," Kirby said.
The US government insists the three objects did not pose a threat to US security, and that even the first massive spy balloon provided “limited additive capabilities” to China’s other surveillance programmes. Still, they were shot out of the sky “out of an abundance of caution”, Kirby said, as they were travelling at such a low altitude as to pose a risk to civilian air traffic.