November 10, 2010

It wasn't a missile.

Says the Defense Department. But what was it? An illusion?

53 comments:

Larry J said...

I've seen similar illusions with contrails, the most recent happening last weekend. The US operates several military satellites whose primary function is launch detection. If it had been a missile, they would've known about it within seconds of launch.

AllenS said...

It was a Liberal's head exploding.

Original Mike said...

If it had been a missile, they would've known about it within seconds of launch.

I don't doubt they'd know about it (at least they damn well better, or I demand a new military!), but would they tell us?

Nonetheless, I see no reason to doubt the "it was a jet" explanation. Contrails can look like all sorts of things.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

Venus. Or a weather balloon. Or swamp gas.

Where's Project Blue Book when you need it?

Fred4Pres said...

A good collection of different theories.

But I think AllenS nailed it.

Bartender Cabbie said...

It was the Prophet Mohammed flying around on his magic carpet.

k*thy said...

I am so reassured...

bagoh20 said...

If that CBS video you can see it actually happening. Sure looks like a launch of some type. It certainly was not intended to be secret. It happened at sunset off the coast of Los Angeles exactly when and where you probably have more eyes aimed at once than anywhere else on earth.

bagoh20 said...

BTW, liberal heads don't explode, they implode - for obvious reasons.

Scott M said...

BTW, liberal heads don't explode, they implode - for obvious reasons.

Well, nature abhors...

Original Mike said...

BTW, liberal heads don't explode, they implode - for obvious reasons.

Ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

MadisonMan said...

Wasn't there a story about someone using a balloon to get a camera into space? Maybe this is a higher tech version?

Larry J said...

InstaPundit has a link to this interesting piece of detective work.

I wonder if I'm the first to call it, the reported unexplained missile launch off the coastt of California, was America West flight 808.

I did a lot of extrapolation of what flights could be at the right position (off the coast) at the right altitude (for contrail formation) and came down to two possibilities: UPS flight 902 (UPS902) or America West flight 808 (AWE808).

As I was researching tonight (24 hours later), I realized that today's AWE808 current position (at around 4:50pm) was almost the same as it was the day of the incident. I quickly pulled up a Newport Beach webcam and found tha (apparently) AWE808 was making an identical contrail, 24 hours later!

former law student said...

There are some damn big model rockets these days. Maybe someone took the launcher out on a boat.

http://www.google.com/images?q=tripoli%20rocket%20contrail

Scott M said...

Hopefully that's the explanation. I can't help thinking, though, that LAX has been flying jetliners out of there and very probably on that exact lane for decades. Why has this little trick of light not come up before?

I don't have my tinfoil on. It just seems like a rational question to ask given the above explanation.

Der Hahn said...

I saw what at first glanced looked like rocket launch trail recently in the sky over eastern Iowa (first time that I can recall seeing something like it). It took a second look to determine that it was way too large and the verticality was an illusion caused by the direction of the sunlight and the earth's curve. So I'm with Larry J - contrail.

DaveW said...

I'll be more inclined to believe it was some sort of airplane contrail with a deceptive angle of view as soon as they explain the obvious bright flame coming out of the ascent vehicle.

Original Mike said...

I'll be more inclined to believe it was some sort of airplane contrail with a deceptive angle of view as soon as they explain the obvious bright flame coming out of the ascent vehicle.

Sunlight reflecting off the tail? Just guessing.

edutcher said...

Isn't it Occam's Razor that says the simplest explanation is usually the best?

They know what it is and it ain't good, but the politicians in the DOD have their orders to keep silent because inflation and possible double dip will be hard enough to blame on Dubya, but bad guys blowing stuff out of the skies puts it right in President O-bow-ma's lap.

Original Mike said...

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, issued a statement jointly with the U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM, saying that the contrail was not the result of a foreign military launching a missile. It provided no further details.

"We can confirm that there is no threat to our nation, and from all indications this was not a launch by a foreign military," the statement said. "We will provide more information as it becomes available."


Nowhere in that statement do they deny that it was a U.S. missile. Have they done so elsewhere?

DaveW said...

You know, Reagan used to do this sort of thing often when he'd go overseas. They'd schedule an exercise and pop-off a few missiles as a sort of show of bravado.

Thing is, I just can't see Obama allowing something like that to happen. It strikes me as way out of character for him.

I do think it was a U.S. missile launch of some sort. What type, and why, I have no idea.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Scott M:

Why has this little trick of light not come up before?


People see this sort of thing all the time, but only this time was it talked up and rumors spread uncritically.

http://uncinus.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/4/#more-4

It is very difficult to judge the size, speed, angle, or direction of anything at high altitude.

But none of that stops the conspiracy theorists.

c3 said...

Periodically in Phoenix we'll see this in the pre-dawn eastern skies.

Any guesses?

Original Mike said...

“Moonbeam Gov. Jerry Brown is headed home to visit relatives”

c3 said...

America West flight 808.

I didn't pursue the link but this sounds fishy since
AMERICA WEST AIRLINES DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE (its US Airways now)

Larry J said...

I didn't pursue the link but this sounds fishy since
AMERICA WEST AIRLINES DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE (its US Airways now)


If you follow the link, it has been corrected to US Airways now. It's possible the flight number registered with the FAA didn't change when the airline changed its name. If you follow the link, he shows a photo taken of the flight a day later that looks very similar to the one reported by the CBS reporter.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@c3:

Any guesses?

A contrail that's being broken up by the wind.

AMERICA WEST AIRLINES DOESN'T EXIST ANYMORE

OMG YOU CRACKED THE CONSPIRACY HOW CAN THEY EXPLAIN THAT

It's the same scheduled flight, doesn't matter what airline is now operating it.

Icepick said...

The contrail would have been from a jet flying over LA, not one flying into or out of LA.

Two other arguements against this being a missile launch:

(1) Still haven't heard from any eye witnesses AT SEA who saw a launch. There's a lot of commercial and pleasure traffic in that area. If it were a plane's contrail viewers at seas wouldn't have noticed anything remarkable as it would have been overhead, but a sea-based missile launch would have stuck out. Lack of witnesses at sea is suggestive, but not conclusive.

(2) Radar images from LAX don't show anything unusual. It's possible to believe that NORAD and other elements of the military would lie (for reasons good bad or indifferent), but it's hard to imagine that the government would get the civilians in the FAA and the Control Tower to lie right from the get-go. The radar images are fairly conclusive - unless we believe that someone has developed a stealth missile!

Michael Haz said...

Let's step back and evaluate this event.

Contrail Theory
Hundreds of jet aircraft, military and civilian, fly west out of California every day. Why would only one aircraft leave a contrail? And if it truly was a contrail, it should be a very simple matter for the FAA or the military to tell us that it was a specific flight number, transponder ID, flight plan, aircraft type, altitude, etc. that caused the contrail. That has not happened. The contrail theory fails for lack of credible and convincing evidence.

Amateur Rocket Builders
amateur rocket builders routinely build and launch their rockets, but only under very specific and controlled conditions, including pre-approval from the FAA. Amateurs launch from land, not from a ship 30 miles off the coast, and their rockets don't have the kind of power and size to create the kind of contrail shown in the photos. NORAD can distinguish between amateur and real rockets, and NORAD says that it "hasn't a clue" about the rocket launch. Highly improbable that it was an amateur rocket launch.

Other Nation Launching a Rocket
Other nations have the resources and equipment to launch a rocket 30 miles off the US coast. But who would do it remains the question.

The North Koreans might, just because they are nuts. Iran has diesel-powered subs, so rule them out.

China has rocket-launching nuclear submarines. China is really pissed off right now about the devaluation of the dollar because it reduces the value of the money used to repay the debt that the US owes China.

Perhaps that rocket was a message to President Obama from the Chinese governmant: "Devalue the dollar and we will harm one of your large cities. We can do it. You didn't know we were here, did you?" This may be a possibility.

Otherwise, there is a very suspicious lack of information coming from the US government. A powerful rocket is launched 50 miles west of Los Angeles and NORAD, the military, the CIA, the DIA, etc all know absolutely nothing about it?

I don't buy it. Someone, some agency, knows who launched that rocket, and the reason why. And the President of the US knows.

I suspect the Chinese government. Let's watch Bernanke's policy of monetizing the national debt over the next few weeks and see if we can conclude that the message was received and understood.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Michael Haz:

Why would only one aircraft leave a contrail?

No one ever said it was the only contrail. It's the only one that people got all bent up about. The link I posted shows similar contrail from over a year ago.

Otherwise, there is a very suspicious lack of information coming from the US government. A powerful rocket is launched 50 miles west of Los Angeles and NORAD, the military, the CIA, the DIA, etc all know absolutely nothing about it?


Hear hoofbeats, assume unicorns and extrapolate from there. The hallmark of the crackpot.

Michael Haz said...

Okay, Gabriel, you're a contrail defender - a member of the conspiracy.

Original Mike said...

Other nations have the resources and equipment to launch a rocket 30 miles off the US coast.

Whoever they were, they have VERY bad aim.

Michael Haz said...

Gabriel, if it was a contrail produced by an aircraft, it should be easy to produce the time, direction, azimuth, flight plan, airline or military branch, aircraft type.

Still waiting.

c3 said...

My picture was of a missile contrail. Missiles launched from White Sands in NM pre-dawn get high enough in the atmosphere that they will light up from the coming sunrise not yet arrived in Phx. First time I saw it was cool and scary at the same time.

(Used to live in NM and experience the temporary closing of US 70 in anticipation of a missile test.)

Sigivald said...

bagoh: It "looks like a launch", except it really looks more like a contrail.

Which is why pictures of it from other angles look a hell of a lot more like a contrail, and nothing at all like a missile launch, because they don't have the illusion of verticality.

ScottM: It has, actually. There are sporading mis-reports of contrails as missile tracks every few years, if I recall reading correctly. It's just not normally such a slow news day - and the whole blogocube amplification factor is new; in 2000 nobody outside of LA would have heard about it to speak of.

Michael: False assumption, that "only one jet left a contrail". Only one jet made a spectacular one at the right angle at sunset, by, as others have said, flying over LA on the way to someplace else, not to or from LAX (AW808 goes from Honolulu to Phoenix... which takes it right over LA).

Not so many flights from HNL to PHX every day, it turns out. A search suggests only two a day.

So, what's supposed to be surprising here?

Seriously, it's not @#!^# China "sending a message" (what message, and how do you imagine they'd be sending it, with what equipment?).

China isn't going to threaten nuclear war over US fiscal policy. That's ... man, I don't even have words that aren't Anglo-Saxon and full of fricatives for what kind of theory that is.

Michael Haz said...

Sigvald- Where's the proof that it was a specific aircraft?

Show me the FAA flight plan, the transponder ID, the airline name. That's all easy stuff, even an amateur airline tracker can do it.

so far, nothing.

Michael Haz said...

And there's this article suggesting that it may have been a missile fired by North Korea.

Gene said...

In the accompanying article a government official is quoted as saying it couldn't be a rocket because the vapor/exhaust trail changed course and rockets don't do that.

I've seen perhaps three or four launches from Vandenburg over the years. Their vapor trials can be all over the place due to different winds at different altitudes. In short, you can't tell if a rocket has changed course by examining only its vapor trail.

I'm guessing it was a contrail left by an airplane (accidentally) made to look more alarming than it really was by a telephoto lens. No country in its right mind goes right up to the shores of another country and launches a missile. It's too easy to freak out people with stunts like that. And the results could be unpredictable.

Original Mike said...

And there's this article suggesting that it may have been a missile fired by North Korea.

If, out of the blue, a North Korean sub launched a missile 35 miles off LA (or whatever it was), I would expect to a sudden, huge increase in activity at naval and military bases along the west coast. Any reports of that?

Rocco said...

Maybe Captain Nemo is modernizing the Nautilus with ballistic missiles.

Gene said...

If anyone wants to see a corkscrew rocket contrail, take a look at this beauty from a Minuteman II missile launched after sunset from Vandenberg in 1997.

http://home.znet.com/schester/fallbrook/views/contrail_picture.html

Paddy O said...

Just to throw out some more random information:

That's all in the area of the Channel Islands, of which 5 are a National Park and 1 is privately owned, though publicly used, Catalina. The other two are Navy owned, San Clemente and San Nicholas. San Nicholas, the smaller of the two, has been used for munitions testing/training, as well as missile launching.

The report I read had officials from Pt. Mugu and Vandenberg denying launches, nothing from the other bases in the area, let alone from the many other Navy ships who train in the area.

bagoh20 said...

""Devalue the dollar and we will harm one of your large cities. "

I live in L.A., right next to LAX and I hope they pick us. We deserve it, but being a socialist republic now, we will likely be spared, thus revealing the genius behind the California votes.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Michael Haz:

Show me the FAA flight plan, the transponder ID, the airline name.

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/AWE808

Of course you're now going to demand a passenger manifest and the name and birth certificate of the pilot's cat's grandmother.

For a routine flight you demand all this information, and when you get it demand more, but to assume it's a missile you require nothing and accuse others of being in on the conspiracy for pointing out that you are idiot.

DaveW said...

The idea that this was the Norks is a complete non-starter for me.

It took the US Navy decades to figure out how to launch a missile from a submarine and launching from underwater is incredibly difficult. For many years the Russians tried - and failed - to surface subs, erect missiles and launch from that platform. It is just very, very difficult.

It could be accomplished by a surface ship, with very sophisticated missile technology, launching off shore, but surely the military would quickly ID the ship of origin.

No, the only ones really capable of pulling off a ballistic missile launch (not a cruise missile) at sea like that are us and the Russians, perhaps the Chinese have developed that ability, but demonstrating it 35 miles from LA would be an extreme provocation.

Looked exactly like a Trident D5 launch test to me.

/shrug

Wonder if we'll ever know.

Scott M said...

It could be accomplished by a surface ship, with very sophisticated missile technology, launching off shore, but surely the military would quickly ID the ship of origin.

Not necessarily. If it's a legitimately registered cargo ship that is moving in established shipping lanes, but has been internally modified to carry a launch system that can be raised, fired, and lowered back into the belly of the ship (like what the Iranians are confirmed playing with), then it would become very difficult to figure out which ship did it without eye-witnesses.

Kirk Parker said...

"These are not the missiles you are looking for."

Icepick said...

Of course you're now going to demand a passenger manifest and the name and birth certificate of the pilot's cat's grandmother.

Hey, how can we possibly get at the truth unless we know if the pilot's pussy's grandmama was born in Kenya or Hawaii?

Original Mike said...

"These are not the missiles you are looking for."

These are not the missiles we are looking for.

Michael Haz said...

One theory put forward is that it's actually an optical illusion. that the contrail is coming toward California and descending, but it looks the opposite.

That fails some basic reasoning.

If it was a commercial aircraft, it wouldn't be descending from a high altitude with engines burning hard enough to create a contrail.

A commercial aircraft coming in from Hawaii or Asia is descending, but gliding, engines throttled back as it approaches the coast of California. The fuel tanks are nearly empty, and the pilots are concerned about hitting bingo fuel as they approach land. And they are slowing down. No contrail here.

A military aircraft wouldn't be accelerating and descending 30 miles from the coast. That interferes with commercial airspace and aircraft, and could create a sonic boom, something the military does not allow over land.

Now let's say that it isn't an illusion; that the aircraft is heading west, not east.

A commercial airliner departing LAX or SFO isn't going fast enough or high enough 30 miles off the coast to create a contrail, so rule that out.

Maybe it was a military aircraft. But wait---the military hasn't said that it was one of their birds.

It would be simple enough to say "One of our fighter jocks at MAS Miramar lit the afterburners and pointed the nose up to see how fast his FA-18 could achieve max altitude. Sorry about that."

Or even "Ahh..we forgot to tell you that we didn't mothball that last SR-71, and that we take it out once or twice a year for a little run up the coast to Seattle at max throttle, then glide it as far north as Nome, turn, and coast it back to Vandenburg. Sorry."

You missile deniers have to agree-there has been no plausible explanation from the Pentagon, only wishful supposition that it wasn't a missile, and no proof of the negative.

Gene said...

I have a question, Michael Haz. Are "missile deniers" anything like holocaust deniers? Or all we all just nuts?

By the way, not all planes approaching the coast of California are entering a pattern to land at LAX. Many stay at altitude till they get to Las Vegas or Phoenix or Chicago, for that matter.

Icepick said...

Haz, you have it wrong. No one was claiming the plane was flying into LA, but that it was flying over LA. Thus all you talk of what planes do when descending is worthless.

Michael Haz said...

Plus, no one has ruled out Ewoks.