A photograph and a video of what was said to be the plume of a missile launch off the coast of California near Los Angeles is likely just the contrail of a jet airliner as seen against the sunset sky, suggests the technology blog Smart Planet.
That suggestion has not stopped lurid speculation in the media and on the Internet. Hot Air’s Allahpundit suggests three theories about what caused the plume or vapor trail.
Our own military launched the missile.
The missile was a commercial launch.
Someone else launched the missile, perhaps the Chinese.
The military has already denied reports that it was an American missile launch and has pronounced itself baffled. A commentator for CBS has claimed that there was a notification for air traffic to avoid the area. Also, the area has seen previous US military missile tests.
The mysterious missile launch is unlikely to have been commercial, as a number of authorizations are needed to allow for such a launch.
The most ominous idea is that the missile, if it was a missile, was launched by a foreign power, likely from a submarine, perhaps by the Chinese. That would suggest that someone has possession of stealth technology that would allow a sub or some other vessel to park itself just over 30 miles from a major American city, launch a missile, and then depart all undetected.
The MO would suggest China, as it has been that country’s habit in the past to conduct provocative weapons tests in order to intimidate potential enemies. A few years ago, the Chinese tested a space weapon that blew up one of its own satellites but also created a swarm of space debris that endangered space traffic for months.
Smart Planet suggests a more benign explanation, that of an airliner contrail seen in evening light from an unusual angle, making it appear to be the vapor trail of a missile in flight. There was a similar contrail spotted near San Clemente about a year ago consistent with the Los Angeles sighting. The article quotes Contrail Science:
“The idea that it’s a missile launch comes from three misconceptions. Firstly that the trail is vertical – it’s not, it’s a horizontal trail, at around 32,000 feet (about six miles)…
“Secondly there’s the misconception of direction, that it’s flying away from the viewer, when it’s actually flying towards the viewer. This is because the ‘base’ of the contrail seems wider than the tip. Perspective tells the brain that this mean the base is closer. But actually you can see the base has been greatly spread by the wind…
“Thirdly there’s the idea that it goes all the way down to the ground. Now that might be true if the Earth was flat, but the Earth is round, and things go beneath the horizon eventually, no matter how high they are. A plane 200 miles away but five miles up is always below the horizon.”
So, American missile launch, commercial missile launch, foreign missile launch, or just an airliner? The investigation continues.
Sources: The mysterious California missile launch that wasn’t, John Herrman, Smart Planet, November 9th, 2010
Wonderful: Military not sure yet who fired “big missile” off California coast, Allahpundit, Hot Air, November 9th, 2010