Local astronomer catches rare glimpse of a weather balloon 20 miles above Craig county

Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 12:08 AM EDT
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Roanoke astronomer Michael Martin had no idea what the white dot was as it appeared in his telescope. It wasn't until meteorologists got involved that the mystery was solved.

Martin, the president of the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society, was looking at the sky Tuesday evening and saw what looked like a bright star that was out of place.

After pulling out his telescope, he realized it was something much more rare. "It was a unique sight through the telescope," he commented on his Twitter feed. "The angle of the sun setting was catching it really well."

But what was it? Turns out, meteorologists at the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Blacksburg had launched their daily weather balloon about an hour before.

After some investigating by NWS meteorologists, the time of the video corresponded to the same time the balloon would have been flying overhead.

The National Weather Service says the balloon popped at 8:56pm, some 20 miles above Craig County. The balloon then descended and may have ended up in nearby Botetourt county.

Even though they are sent up at least twice per day from Blacksburg, "it's a rare occurrence to spot one of these weather balloons, especially to time it out that you spot it exploding," says chief meteorologist Brent Watts.

Most (20% or less) balloons are never found, as they end up in fields, mountains or wooded areas.

"You now have an office full of scientists geeking out," read the NWS Blacksburg Twitter account.

We always love to explain your weather photos and video. Share them with WDBJ7Weather on our Twitter and Facebook Feed, or email to Don't forget to include your name and location.

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