On Thursday, a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was spotted over Montana, breaching U.S. airspace.

The most likely scenario, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) model, is that the balloon originated from mainland China and flew over the North Pole through Canada to its destination in the United States. The balloon is expected to be over the Midwest throughout Friday, flying above states such as Nebraska and Kansas.

The balloon reportedly had hovered over highly sensitive military sites such as Montana’s domestic nuclear missile silo field.

Chinese officials have denied that the balloon was involved in intelligence gathering, and have suggested that the balloon was instead primarily used for meteorology and other scientific purposes. The balloon, they argued, merely blew off course.

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Balloons have been used for surveillance by many countries, becoming a mainstream technique by World War I. The United States itself employed hundreds of spy balloons throughout the twentieth century, especially during the Cold War for surveillance of the Soviet Union.

As satellite and unmanned drone technology has improved, however, balloon surveillance has declined throughout the world, calling into question why China would utilize such a tactic.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has cautioned against ordering that the balloon be shot down, citing concerns over falling debris on American land. The balloon’s altitude is well above any civilian aircraft and does not appear to pose any immediate threat to Americans.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed his scheduled trip to China until further notice due to the incident.

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