Patterico's Pontifications


Did I See the Aftermath of a Missile Launch off the Southern California Coast Last Night?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:22 pm

There have been some reports of a missile launch last night at around 5 p.m., 35 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, north of Catalina Island and west of L.A. Apparently the military knows nothing about it, which has led to all kinds of speculation.

I believe I saw the contrail last night – not while it was being made, but in the immediate aftermath. I wish I had taken a picture of it. I almost did. I assumed it was an airplane contrail, with a bright orange trail leading into the sea somewhere north of Catalina.

What I found interesting, though, was that if you traced it back away from the sea towards land, it became a sort of ghostly translucent dark blue color. I had never seen a color like that before on a contrail and it got my attention.

It certainly seemed to trace back overhead. I can’t say that it actually went overhead because I didn’t go outside to look at it.

From inside the house, the trail traced from the ocean up to the roof of the porch, and disappeared behind the porch roof.

Based on the trail, I assumed that it was a plane that had flown over the vicinity of Long Beach/San Pedro out into the Pacific, or vice versa. I find it hard to reconcile all that with the video below, which shows an object seemingly rising in the sky, leaving a contrail behind it. (The rising appearance could be an optical illusion.) I know the object didn’t go over land. So what was that blue continuation of the contrail that I saw? And did it come down? And if so, where?

I will be very interested to see what comes of this. Apparently some people are saying it may be just what I thought it was: an airplane. Stay tuned. Here’s the video:

41 Responses to “Did I See the Aftermath of a Missile Launch off the Southern California Coast Last Night?”

  1. I think the U.S. should sortee its fleet just in case, and conduct a couple unannounced SLBM test fires off of the borders of China and Russia.

    Kidding. I go with it’s a plane.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  2. My second guess is single SLBM launch deliberately away from L.A. as a show of force, possibly with responsibility claim to be delivered privately and/or delayed as whatever circumstances unfold.

    But that would be bad.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  3. So this is only a few miles from where the Navy’s Pacific missile range is. Simple explanation is that the Navy wanted people to see a missile launch. Maybe they detected one from China (that we aren’t aware of) and wanted to make sure the Chinese know we detected it.

    The blue could be nitrogen chloride, which is a result of (I believe) most modern rocket propellants, but is observable from space and the Navy probably would use Ammonium dinitramide, which is probably bluish but wouldn’t leave a trail that is blue, I would guess.

    This certainly looks like a very powerful missile to me. And if it were some kind of surprise enemy submarine, there would have been sightings of helicopters and airplanes very soon after.

    So either it’s an optical illusion or US Navy.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  4. i was tempted to post on this, but figured you would almost have to say something about it given your proximity, and probably you would have greater insight.

    all i can say is someone better have a damn explanation and soon.

    I am going with UFOs. (kidding)

    Well, okay technically this is an object that is not identified and flying, thus a UFO, but you know what i mean…

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  5. I checked the LA Times web site. They’re pretty sure that it’s either refraction off of Obama’s halo. Or possibly the vanguard of global-warming-created apocalypse. Either way it’s the fault of the Republicans, apparently.

    Ken (d7a549)

  6. it became a sort of ghostly translucent dark blue color

    that Skyline movie what comes out this weekend seems like it’s all about the ghostly blue hues

    Strange lights descend on the city of Los Angeles, drawing people outside like moths to a flame where an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth.*

    happyfeet (a55ba0)

  7. The only time I’ve ever seen the translucent blue trails were after missile launches from Vandenburg, never from aircraft contrails.

    Gary in San Diego (f49ad5)

  8. I know the source!!!

    SacTownMan (09e9ed)

  9. I spent a few years working in the “missile biz” at Vandenberg AFB, and blue (and sometimes green) colors are typical of solid fuel ICBM contrails during Westward sunset launches. I’m told that the colors come from metallic elements added to the fuels to boost their energy.

    Based upon the available evidence, it seems highly likely that it was an actual missile launch. However, the military has a long history or trying to deny the obvious.

    Hopefully, this was not the Chinese displaying their displeasure with that QE2 thing.

    GaryS (8351a3)

  10. So far, Ken wins the award for most creative explanation.

    I guess one can always consider it to be a US military test that will not be disclosed.

    And though drug cartels have used submarines, I don’t think they have missile capability- which is a relief.

    What is not a relief is the thought it could be China showing its muscle while we are courting India. Is 12 miles the distance from land still considered to be the limit of national sovereignty?

    I was looking forward to seeing you folks offer an opinion.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  11. Off topic of the end of the world, but what a bunch of a-holes.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  12. GaryS is right. It could be some kind of illusion. I guess it could be some crazy threat to LA (though why no reaction in the area from the air?)

    MD, if this is actually a missile, it’s huge. It’s not some short range rocket and it sounds like it may be using NASA grade propellant. So it’s not a drug cartel’s missile, though Catalina does get a lot of contraband by sea. I worked with missles and rockets in the tens to hundreds of miles range, and this looks like something larger than that.

    If it’s a missile, it’s from an advanced military.

    And I’m not saying it’s not just an illusion that looks like a huge missile. Though it an effective illusion.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  13. “though why no reaction in the area from the air”


    I think that’s rather the point people are making.

    I’m not saying it is a missile. But there could be the answer to your question.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  14. Christoph, all I meant was that if an enemy sub launched something this massive in that location, there would have been a lot of aircraft photographed over the area within a few minutes, and that would be a major part of the story.

    That leaves the ‘non-missile’ theory standing, and it leaves the ‘our missile’ theory standing.

    I think the confused government response may rule out a commercial aircraft. We know where a plane would have to be, headed towards LAX, to say “it was this plane on this route”. But then, maybe they have some silly reason to want to be confusing.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  15. I remember once getting a VTOL aircraft and helicopter mixed up in the distance in a training exercise. This was before VTOL was deployed operationally, so I was surprised. I was also wrong.

    That was a smaller mistake than mixing up plane and missile, but my certainty in seeing it and the reality were so different than each other, that I am a little bit cautious about identifitying aircraft based on a visual from one perspective. I am very conscious that well-meaning mistakes can be made easily.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  16. Patterico; Back in 2001 I was in Barstow, CA and saw a similar thing in the sky towards Vandenberg (WNW of Barstow @ 200 miles)It was a weird bluish ring with wispy spiral things and a brighter area above it. Later that night I checked the Vandenberg launch schedule and sure enough, there had been a missile interceptor launch that night. AFter looking into it and asking some AF friends, I learned that the hot, poisonous gases of the solid rocket left some awful exhaust that, when hit by the sunlight shortly after dark, produces some vibrant colors in the sky.

    We’ve all seen jet contrails that are mostly water vapor and some noxious fumes, but rocket vapors are highly toxic with high concentrations of bad juju. That might’ve been what you saw because it sounds like what I saw that night.

    tc (599799)

  17. That was a smaller mistake than mixing up plane and missile, but my certainty in seeing it and the reality were so different than each other


    If it’s an illusion, it’s an illusion that looks a lot like a missile launch. But it could easily be just that sort of illusion.

    tc’s right that rocket exhaust is not healthy.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  18. It is unlikely to have been a Navy SLBM test. They just don’t usually do those from that close inshore.

    And there would have been a valid NOTAM for the exercise.

    I think the jet contrail is the best explanation.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  19. Or of course it could be one of Dennis Kucinich’s chemtrails.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  20. Maybe the Chinese are celebrating LA’s “sanctuary city” status and their boycott of AZ???

    I kid..

    tc (599799)

  21. “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,” Pike tells Danger Room. “The object generating the contrail is moving too slowly to be a rocket; the contrail is not expanding as the ‘rocket’ gains ‘altitude’ — which would be the case as the exhaust plume expanding into less dense high altitude air.”

    Hot Air

    It definitely looks like a missile. But this explanation isn’t bad or anything.

    I don’t know about this air density claim, but it is a slow moving trail.

    SPQR’s common sense point isn’t a bad one either. This is awfully close to a tourist destination and if it’s Navy it was awfully stupid.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  22. it was awfully stupid

    well, this is the administration to do something in that class of act…. the offset to that argument is that i doubt that even Hillary has the balls to send a message that way.

    thanks to the lay of the land here in Paradise, i would have had to be at the top of the ridge to have seen this in person, but these screen caps look like every Vandenburg launch i’ve ever seen… note the corkscrew of the exhaust…. airplane contrails don’t do that, but missiles do.

    maybe someone in Ear Leader’s regime decided to go full bore stupid in the message sending department after all? we’re so far off the map now that nothing these idiots might do would surprise me, unless it made sense.

    redc1c4 (fb8750)

  23. and sure enough, there had been a missile interceptor launch that night.

    I initially had that reaction as well, although I have no experience nor any relevant military background to come to that conclusion. But if you’ve watched the vids lately (via LiveLeak) on our improving missile defense capabilities, it looked quite similar. Perhaps we wanted the Chinese to get a real good look at our progress, since they’ve been sabre rattling all over the Indian/Asian hemisphere since Obama took over. Their deep water Navy is progressing at a rapid pace, and we might be trying to forestall a possible invasion of Taiwan in the near future. This is a very real possibility, IMHO. They knew not to mess around with Bush, but Obama?

    Dmac (498ece)

  24. BTW, I’m not suggesting that this was a smart move in any way, shape or form. If this was planned, welcome to the Presidency of Carter II.

    Dmac (498ece)

  25. dustin-
    I was being tongue-in-cheek about it being a cartel submarine.
    It might have been something of ours that we’re not supposed to know about-

    or, much worse, something of theirs we’re not going to know about. If a Chinese or Russian sub shot a missile that could have reached Chicago from 35 mile off of our shore, but in the opposite direction, how eager would the administration (any administration) be to let us know that?

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  26. Dmac,
    between Obama making a show of force and the Chinese making a show of force, which do you consider most likely?

    Yes, not a comforting thought.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  27. . If this was planned, welcome to the Presidency of Carter II.

    Comment by Dmac

    I wish more people understood this. Radical military action is more needed by those seen as toothless. All this bowing and apologizing is very provocative, leading to desperate solutions.

    Another issue I take with the over-the-horizon plan is that the contrail doesn’t drift like I’d expect a plane’s to.

    And the little initial course adjustment near the bottom of the trail, while subtle and hard to see, just looks like a guided missile changing modes from deploying to flight. This is the kind of mental certainty that isn’t very reliable. I’m seeing what I want to see.

    I hope it’s just a plane, of course.

    The large cloud of exhaust near the base of the plume could just be a large cloud at the edge of the sky, I guess.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  28. I was being tongue-in-cheek about it being a cartel submarine.

    Sorry, MD. This was a good joke and I’m just a little slow today.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  29. No prob, Dustin. Glad you enjoyed it, once realized.

    Unfortunately, the thought of it being Chinese is not so tongue-in-cheek or funny. I repeat my question, which is more likely:
    1. Ours, Obama showing the Chinese we can pal around with India if we want
    2. Theirs, the Chinese reminding the one of what they’re capable of?

    Off to put the little one to bed.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  30. Good question, MD – and given past history when a POTUS has shown this much weakness so early into his first term in office, the omens are not good. Shortly after the Soviets met Carter and Zig for the first time and heard about their emphasis on human rights, they invaded Afghanistan. Of course Carter’s response was to pull out of the Olympics – I’m sure that impressed them at the time. Then we had Clinton and Bosnia – it’s unfair to make either linkage directly, but you have to wonder.

    Dmac (498ece)

  31. Has anybody bothered to check with the FAA?

    Count de Money (4776a5)

  32. Looks like a plane. Lived near the west end of LAX for years and at this time of year at that time of day you’d occasionally see similar optics from vapor trails, especially near sunset or just after sunset in cool air as the evening flights arrived and departed LA one after the other. It’s unusual but in the right lighting conditions with the right winds it can get your attention. Missile launches we’d see from Pt. Magu or Vandenberg tended to follow higher trajectories and track farther north over Malibu heading westward but they do look similar. And the missiles usually released a dye or some sort for upper atmospheric tests resulting in color patterns blowing around at high altitude for an hour or so.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  33. Got it:

    It’s a bolide, a really big chunk of space debris traveling through the atmosphere.

    Lazarus Long (40ce85)

  34. Then we had Clinton and Bosnia – it’s unfair to make either linkage directly

    Yeah, that’s really stupid.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  35. I saw the same thing on Friday night in Santa Barbara. I know there were quite a few others that saw it as I was standing in a parking lot with a bunch of people watching. It was definitely NOT an airplane. If anyone watched it they would know that. So what was it? How come I haven’t heard about Friday sightings of apparently the same thing?

    Emily (7714f9)

  36. Yeah, that’s really stupid.

    Who asked you, assh-le?

    Dmac (498ece)

  37. The Soviet Union was the United States’ main expansionist rival. The Yugoslav thing was an essentially civil war involving a pissant size population who were having problems with other local religious and ethnic groups in their borders and also had a demagoging ruler.

    They just ain’t the same thing unless you can point out how having a big, bad Republican Texas cowboy President (I’m a Bush fan, but I’m seeing it from the world’s point of view) stopped civil wars and, for that matter, direct attack on the United States.

    Christoph (8ec277)

  38. Please refer to the release of the KGB files and the record of the Politboro meetings that were disclosed during Yeltsin’s time. The files indicated that shortly after Brezhnev’s meeting with Carter, the Russians concluded that the US was in no position to threaten Soviet aims at further expansionism. They didn’t dare try anything during Nixon’s time, despite the deteriorating state of the US military, because Nixon had clearly indicated (via private meetings) his willingness to use nuclear weapons if they attempted to threaten countries in our hemisphere. They honestly thought Nixon was crazy, which was exactly his intention. Furthermore, former Russian military officials have often said that the Soviets were duly impressed with how many soldiers we had been willing to sacrifice during the Vietnam War, despite all indications that we were going to have to pull out eventually – when LBJ and Nixon were in office, they were quite concerned with our possible reaction to their long – term aims. When Carter came onto the scene, they felt otherwise. You could also see this pattern earlier when Kruschev took the measure of Kennedy during their first meeting and shortly thereafter put missiles in Cuba. Fortunately, Kennedy quickly remedied the situation, but the world’s future was very much in doubt because of his earlier displays of fecklessness.

    Dmac (498ece)

  39. Yeah, that’s really stupid.

    In the future, try to respond with something more intelligent that this – what are you, in 6th grade?

    Dmac (498ece)

  40. Ok it was a missle, the question is where the heck did it come down. If I know the navy they will have some ASW boats in the vicinity. The Navy says it isnt theirs, Vandenburg had a lauch on friday. Is this another countries missle fired in US territorialwaters. Its impact somewhere on earth or is it in orbit? No one seems to know. I know this is as serious as it can get with a sub launched missle.It couldnt be too hard to figure out its trajectory. Is this a warning or a test. A sub lauched missles this shows how close a sub can launch to friendly shores.

    Larry Monske (b6bca2)

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