The mystery missile seen off the coast of California Monday evening during rush hour traffic still has no official explanation, but a simple unofficial explanation seems to be the most reasonable: The missile was no missile at all. According to various scientists and experts, the mystery “missile” caught on the video camera of a KCBS traffic helicopter and its stunning pillar of “smoke” was nothing more than the normal contrail of a jet airplane. It’s seeming rise from the Pacific up into the sky, they said, was just a spectacular optical illusion.
John Pike, a defense and aerospace expert who runs GlobalSecurity.org, told the Washington Post: “This thing is so obviously an airplane contrail, and yet apparently all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t find someone to stand up and say it.” He then joked, “I guess the president’s out of town.”
He noted that it appeared to be a missile launch because of several factors. The object was moving far too slow to be a rocket. It was an unusually clear day in California, and the contrail, which is hundreds of miles long, was highlighted by the setting sun. Pike said that it only seemed to rise up out of the ocean.
On the website GlobalSecurity.org, a posting explained that: “The mystery contrail is obviously an airplane. The aircraft is flying towards the observer. The air over the Pacific is clear, so the contrail is visible all the way to the horizon. This creates the optical illusion of a rocket flying up, rather than the actual situation of an airplane flying horizontally. The conditions are unusual, in that the contrail is unusually persistent, and it is being illuminated by the setting sun.”
Global Security also noted that if it had been a missile, the contrail would have been more diffused the higher up the missile went, the exhaust expanding into the thinner atmosphere of higher altitudes.
But government and military agencies, from the Navy and Air Force to the Federal Aviation Administration, have refused to support any hypothesis as to the origin or identification of the sighting. Only NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) would say that, whatever it was, it did not originate from an extra-national source. They also said they did not believe the U.S. was in any imminent danger of attack.
But the video went viral on the Internet, especially after San Diego station KFMB interviewed former deputy secretary of defense and ambassador to NATO Robert Ellsworth, who called the phenomenon a “missile” and suggested that it may have been fired from a submarine, a posturing maneuver by the United States in light of the President’s recent trip to Asia.
From there it appears that imaginations ran wild. Speculation as to who and/or what launched the mystery missile just north of Catalina Island and west of Los Angeles ran rampant on the Internet. The video went viral. The news reports about the video went viral. And with the aviation officials and government agencies uncertain and unwilling to commit to an official explanation other than that they did not know what had occurred, the story gained impetus.
John Pike suggested, “At the end of the day, you really have to go with the simplest explanation.”
In the end, it most probably was the reflection of condensed water vapor left in the wake of the exhaust of a jet engine. Unofficially, of course…
The KCBS video that started the entire mystery missile sensation follows.
“Mystery Missile Fired Off Southern California Coast,” KCBS via YouTube.com
“Mystery in sky over California may be plane as day,” WashingtonPost.com
“Mystery Missile Madness,” GlobalSecurity.org