ABC News has reported that an unidentified flying object (UFO) forced Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, China to cease operations on July 7, 2010.

The unusual object — which seemed to be projecting long beams of bright light — was first detected around 8:40 p.m. by a flight crew preparing for descent.  The crew notified the air traffic control department. Aviation authorities responded within minutes, grounding outbound flights and diverting inbound ones to airports in Ningbo and Wuxi.

Xiaoshan Airport was forced to cease operations and eighteen flights were affected. Though normal operations resumed an hour later, the incident captured the attention of the Chinese media and sparked a firestorm of speculation on the UFO’s identity.

Some have speculated that the brightly illuminated “vehicle” t is a hidden U.S. bomber flying toward China. Anothers suggest that it is Russian or even an exploratory craft piloted by aliens from OUT OF THIS WORLD.

Fueling speculations further, Hangzhou residents released photos, taken in the afternoon before the delays, of a hovering object bathed in golden light and exhibiting a comet-like tail. Less than an hour before the Xiaoshan airport shut down, residents said they also saw a flying object emitting red and and white beams of light.

Numerous Hangzhou residents snapped photos of this mysterious object. One of the photographers, Ma Shijun, claims that he first saw the UFO while he was taking a nighttime stroll with his wife:

“I felt a beam of light over my head. Looking up, I saw a streak of bright, white light flying across the sky, so I picked up the camera and took the photo. The time was 8:26 p.m. However, whether the object was a plane, or whether it was Xiaoshan Airport’s UFO, I don’t have a clear answer.”

For now, the UFO’s identity remains shrouded in mystery. A spokesman from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) confirmed to ABC News that the matter is under investigation. He declined to disclose further details.

The director of the Shanghai UFO Investigative Research Center, Lou Jinhong, traveled to Hangzhou to study the phenomenon:

“We have several places to visit on our agenda, including the Xiaoshan Airport and the CAAC East China Regional Administration,” t “I cannot offer an opinion on this case, because we have not yet collected all the relevant documents and data. It’s not clear how long the investigation will take.”