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What do we know about the objects that were shot down over Canada and the U.S.?

Four aerial objects have been shot down over Canada and the U.S. this month. Before Feb. 4, news of something like this was unheard of. So what exactly is going on? And – why all of a sudden?

Also: How prepared are we if another object enters Canadian airspace?

A sailor looks at monitoring equipment.
A sailor assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2 conducts a search for debris with an underwater vehicle during recovery efforts of a high-altitude balloon in the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 7. (Ryan Seelbach/U.S. Navy)

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Four objects have been shot down over Canada and the U.S. over the past two weeks.

So, why all the sudden airborne sightings? And what exactly is going on?

Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby said intelligence sensors have been adjusted to detect objects they wouldn't have been able to see before, which could be why we have seen the recent discoveries. 

That means it's still possible we could see more news of unknown objects in our skies or being shot down.

In the meantime, here are answers to some of your questions.

Does Canada have a role in recovering debris if shot down in our waters or airspace?

The short answer is, yes.

On Sunday, Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and Northern Command, said the object shot down over Lake Huron had likely fallen into Canadian waters.

However, in a briefing Monday afternoon, RCMP spokesperson Sean McGillis said he was "not aware of debris making its way into Canadian waters." 

Despite the dearth of answers, Canadian and American teams are working on locating and recovering the debris.

The search for the debris is being conducted by the Canadian Coast Guard ship Griffon with the help of two Canadian Coast Guard helicopters based out of Parry Sound, Ont., said Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, who is also in charge of the Canadian Coast Guard, at a news conference on Monday.

What do we know about how the objects look and move?

Very little is known about the objects right now. 

The first object shot down earlier this month was determined by the U.S. to be a Chinese spy balloon, John Kirby, the U.S. National Security Council co-ordinator for strategic communications, told a White House news conference.

Details on the other three objects are less clear. 

Kirby said the trio did not have propulsion and were not being manoeuvred. Maj.-Gen. Paul Prévost, director of the Strategic Joint Staff at the U.S. Department of Defense, corroborated this statement during the briefing Monday evening, adding they were mainly "lighter than air" and "follow the wind pattern." Given this information, there is no evidence of any propulsion system, he added. 

"These other three — they didn't have propulsion and they weren't being manoeuvred. We don't know for sure whether they had a surveillance aspect to them," Kirby said.

What have we learned about the Chinese spy balloon?

The balloon spent a week flying over North America before it was shot down by a U.S. fighter jet off South Carolina's coast on Feb. 4.

Beijing denies it was a government spy vessel. But Kirby said the Chinese spy balloon's path showed it may have been monitoring sensitive U.S. military sites.

The U.S. military says it has recovered critical electronics, including key sensors presumably used for intelligence gathering.

NORAD members look at maps.
Members of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command maintain around-the-clock watch at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado. (NORAD)

"Crews have been able to recover significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronics pieces identified as well as large sections of the structure," the U.S. military's Northern Command said in a statement.

The Biden administration also said the balloon was part of a huge, military-linked aerial spy program that targeted more than 40 countries.

Were these objects spying? What data would they be collecting?

Aside from the first balloon, we don't yet know. 

The subsequent three objects are yet to be characterized — so for now, they are being referred to as objects. 

"We have no information at this point on what payload they could have carried or the capabilities they have," said Prévost during a briefing Monday.

Kirby also said the intelligence community is considering the possibility the three objects could be related to "some commercial or benign purpose."

WATCH | Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby talks downed objects, airspace preparedness:

Former Pentagon official talks downed objects, airspace preparedness

4 months ago
Duration 3:44
Former Pentagon official Elbridge Colby discusses what we know about the objects that were recently shot down and how prepared Canada is if more objects were to enter its airspace.

Recovery operations are underway and there should be more information in the coming days, Colby added.

How prepared are we if another object comes into Canadian airspace?

Prévost said the answer depends on the objects we face. 

"There is always an ongoing analysis of what's the best tool to use for the situations we face," he said.

He added there are "capabilities" on the CF-18s that can "take care" of some of those objects, but at this time they are not being asked to use them on any of these objects.

The major general also noted that these unprecedented activities underscore the importance of our binational military command and NORAD.

"We are committed to keeping Canadians and Americans safe and we will remain in contact with our U.S. partners to ensure binational response to all the situations where a co-ordinated approach is required," he said.

"It is important that Canada, the U.S. and NORAD work together and use all the tools in our toolbox to address the threat we face."