While driving through the plains over the past two days, I heard incessant yapperings about the “mystery missile” launched off the coast of California. I was curious as to what this was about; when I finally got where I could get online and look this up last night, I was disappointed to see the images. An incredibly brief search showed that someone had already done the legwork to show that the contrail was perfectly explainable via normal jetliners, just viewed at a rare angle.

http://uncinus.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/4/

Additionally, there’s one *blatant* bit of trivia about this story that stomps flat the suggestion that this was a rocket: the helicopter-based cameraman tracked it for *ten* *minutes.* There ain’t no such animal as a solid propellant rocket that burns for ten minutes. The Shuttle SRB burns for a whole two.

Fearmongering by the press, nothing more.

  • Doug

    But like duude, it only looked like 10 minutes because of the interaction of the coriolis and doppler effects. Doesn’t the red shift with a right hand twist make that obvious?

  • Michael Holt

    The news put me in a particularly good mood, and I suggested that it might have been a Russian launch of a interceptor satellite that would match the polar orbit of American spy satellites. The launch would have been from a Typhoon (they’ve done that).

    The next thing to wait for is the book about the conspiracy to cover up the Russian launch.

  • Michael Llaneza

    California has had weird skies recently. Contrails over San Francisco were notably different, much, much wider than usual, for a few days last week.

  • Huron

    I think the more pressing concern is that the military wasn’t able to figure that out.

  • http://parabarbarian.blogspot.com/ parabarbaran

    None of the intial reports I read mentioned the “missle” was tracked for 10 minutes. Had I had that bit of information I would have immediately known it was the Decepticons.

  • admin

    > the military wasn’t able to figure that out.

    Don’t leap to that conclusion. if it was a jetliner:
    1) NORAD knew all about the jetliner
    2) NORAD knew of no missile launch
    3) The PR people at the DoD would not necessarily have known anything, since if NORAD tracked a normal jetliner and no missile, NORAD would have had no reason to tell their PR people to put out a press release saying that nothing unusual was going on.

    “Absolutely nothing happened in Sector 83 by 9 by 12 today. I repeat, nothing happened in Sector 83 by 9 by 12.”

    The DoD probably feels no rush on convincing people that a jetliner is just a jetliner. Why go to the bother? The conspiracy nuts are going to raise a fuss whether the answer comes fast or slow; if it comes slow, at least it will give across the impression that the DoD are a bunch of dunces… which could come in handy the next time the DoD needs to make some seemingly random cave somewhere go *foom*.

  • Pat Flannery

    The interesting part is that this contrail phenomena has occurred at least twice in almost exactly the same location: http://uncinus.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/4/
    Is there something odd about the climate off to the west of LA that causes this to occur?
    Then, from back in 1991, there were the repeated sonic booms heard over southern California from something (that the US Geological Survey estimated to be from a vehicle moving at Mach 5-6 from the time the booms hit their seismic sensors)…which recently restarted:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28aircraft%29#Sonic_booms
    http://www.mercurynews.com/centralcoast/ci_11840107
    It’s easily possible for a military aircraft to go unintentionally supersonic by hitting an area of different air temperature as it’s flying at near-sonic speeds; but at least in the first reports of the odd contrail, the thing making it is turning to the north as the video was taken, which not only was the way the 1991 sonic booms were tracked as going, but doesn’t make any sense for an airliner’s course – as they fly shortest distance point-to-point on a great circle route to conserve time and fuel.
    Something funny going on on one of those small islands off to the west of LA?
    I’ve been looking at all of them in detail on Google Earth; does anyone know if any of them is in their entirety, or has areas of it in particular, that are off limits to civilians for some reason?
    One has to admit, doing something secret on a little island has advantages to doing it secretly over trying it on a mainland area – as Captain Nemo could have told you when building the Nautilus out on Vulcania.
    Another thing interesting about the first reports was that although it certainly wasn’t anything any part of the US military had done, it might have been some launch a private entity had done.
    Everyone assumed that meant some sort of a rocket launch that some sort of rocket club had done; but it also could mean something that Lockheed or Boeing had done under a DARPA contact to the US government, with no official government involvement by any military entity of the US government.
    What I want to see is an unedited version of the full 10-minute video the helicopter got, so I can judge just how fast it was moving from the first time the ‘copter started filming it till the filming stopped.
    The little snippets of it that are shown don’t let you know that, as the apparent acceleration of it could just as easily be due to zooming in on it.
    I will say this for it; if that was a contrail visible for hundreds of miles behind an airliner, so that it went clean down to the horizon due to the curvature of the Earth’s surface, that was one mighty dense contrail.

  • admin

    > fly shortest distance point-to-point on a great circle route to conserve time and fuel.

    Usually… but not always. I have from time to time observed high-altitude jets and their contrails making notable course changes. Usually it appears to be a diversion of 30 degrees or less (hard to be sure about the angles, of course), but I’ve also seen jetliners fly circles or do 180′s. Obviously there has to be *some* reason for that. My usual presumption, especially for angles of less than 90 degrees, is a diversion to avoid weather. Circles and 180′s, though, had me stumped.

    A few years ago I saw a jetliner trundling along over Utah; wouldn’t have paid it much mind except for the much smaller single-engined contrail that seemed to be following it at a much higher speed, like an F-16 was chasing it. Of course, it may just as easily have simply been flying a similar course at lower altitude, but it may also have been a KC-135, and the F-16 wanted to tank up. Shrug.

    > that was one mighty dense contrail.

    Or simply very still air (still in the respect that it was at a consistent speed with little to no shear vertically or horizontally, over a distance of many miles).

  • Pat Flannery

    A contrail that big needs a situation where the atmospheric water content is just shy of allowing it to condense into ice particles and create a cirrus cloud, so that the added water content that the jet engine exhaust adds to it tips it over the edge and lets that form.*
    That’s _probably_ what happened in this case; but I’d still like to see the full ten-minute video of the whole event.
    I’m still struck by the near-identical discontinuity that both of the images show near their base, almost like a staging event. That shouldn’t exist for something coming in at a steady altitude from Hawaii.

    * That doesn’t include superchilled water either, where the passage of the aircraft through it could create enough turbulence all on its own to cause it to turn into ice crystals.

  • Pat Flannery

    BTW, when I was doing a preliminary look at the nearby islands on Google Earth, San Nicolas island does have airfield on it with what looks like a pair of parked Predator or Global Hawk drones. Position is 33 degrees 14’27.33 N; 119 degrees 27’48.38 W if you want to see them – there is something like a yellow school bus parked next to them, and their wingspan is right around 45 feet, and length around 30 feet.

  • Pat Flannery

    I _assume_ they are drones at least; the only manned aircraft that I can think of in US military service that would look like that from above would be the old Navy T2A Buckeye trainers…aren’t those all out of service now?

  • Jp

    back in 2003 I saw a 747 flying at a medium alt. with two big trails coming from it’s wingtips. It flew a racetrack pattern for about a half an hour. It must have been venting fuel for a return to LAX but I didn’t hear about any problems on the news.

    I live in SoCal and I’ve seen that kind of contrail a couple of times and it does look odd. The rocket contrails from Vandenberg always cause UFO sightings. It’s because the rocket looks like a fast moving bright light and if it’s near dusk, when the rocket leaves the atomosphere, a huge exhaust plume appears and is lit up by the Sun so it looks like a huge glowing ball of light in the sky and the contrail is not straight, as it goes up, the different wind currents cause the trail to squggle across the sky. So it looks like the rocket went out of control.

  • Jeff Wright

    Well, the contrail was in Pacific Maritime air after all. Be nice if someone could find an SRB to burn for ten minutes–you’d need nothing else!

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