DENVER — Many of you spotted a mysterious bright object in the sky Monday night and we learned that the objects are from Google and actually have a pretty cool purpose.
They're called Loon balloons and they're headed to Africa, believe it or not, to provide balloon-powered Internet access to unserved and underserved users in Kenya and beyond, according to a spokesperson for Google.
While it may be the first time you've seen them, Google said that on any given day, Loon has dozens of balloons flying around the world as part of ongoing operations. The balloons routinely operate above the U.S., according to the company.
Over the past few years, the Loon system has been used to connect hundreds of thousands of people. To date, Loon's balloons have flown enough miles to circle the earth 1,000 times, Google said.
Using a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, Loon works with mobile network operators to expand coverage to unserved and underserved populations, upgrade existing networks, and provide expedient coverage after natural disasters.
Here's how they work:
- Loon balloons travel on the edge of space, acting as floating cell towers, to deliver connectivity to people in unserved and underserved areas around the world. This animation has more detail.
- Loon’s balloons navigate wind currents 20 kilometers above the earth and can be arranged in small clusters to provide periods of prolonged connectivity down below.
- Loon partners with mobile network operators to expand the reach of their service. Together, we help expand coverage into remote and rural locations, upgrade existing networks, and provide expedient coverage after natural disasters.
The balloons are designed to last for hundreds of days in the stratosphere and when their time is up, they're navigated to a sparsely populated area where they can land safely, according to the company.
The helium keeping the balloon afloat is released, and a parachute deploys to guide the balloon slowly to the ground. A recovery team is then sent to the location to collect the balloon for analysis and recycling.
It's not the first time they've been seen around the metro area. They also were spotted in northern Colorado in Sept. 2018.
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