About That “Missile” Off The Coast

I’ve gotten requests in comments and email for my thoughts, but I really don’t know much more than anyone else. I didn’t see it myself, but this explanation looks like the most likely one to me. Fortunately, it’s also the most benign one. I do think it’s a good reminder, though, that we need to get serious about missile defense.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Here’s a lengthy disquisition on the contrail theory.

37 thoughts on “About That “Missile” Off The Coast”

  1. I thought NORAD satellites could detect missile launches. If that is so then NORAD would have gone on alert for at least a short period. In the news articles I’ve read so far the military hasn’t said it wasn’t a missile. If it was a contrail, then there wouldn’t have been a launch signature, and the military would have just said so instead of saying “I don’t know”.

  2. The ContrailScience (uncinus) link was probably the most comprehensive and convincing confirmation I’ve seen about this so far. It’s a shame that so many people in the comments section over there are so bent on a conspiracy that Occam’s Razor is tossed out the window.

  3. At 35 miles, of any size, would not someone at least heard the boom when it went transsonic? At least somebody on a boat or ship?

  4. Looks to me like the contrail of a jet under unusual atmospheric and lighting conditions. I say this because of the following video on YouTube of nearly exactly the same phenomena taken a few years ago in Florida: http://youtu.be/9sVmjpDZLN0

    Despite the father and son saying it is a missile launch, in the last few minutes of the video you can clearly see what started out to really look like a missile launch turn into what is clearly a conventional aircraft flying at a high altitude. After a few minutes any real missile would be long gone over the horizon and not be resolvable by a hand held video camera on a rocking boat — at least based on my observation of actual Shuttle launches and videos of ICBMs launching.

    I guess WWIII is averted for now.

  5. It’s the ancient aliens emerging from their Cthulhu lair buried deep beneath the ocean’s surface. Their Michael Jackson surveying apparatus has stopped responding for some time. So, now they’re flying back home to report their mission is over. Bye bye Ancient Aliens! Bye Bye!!

  6. Yeah, I take back what I said in another thread. I can see this as a contrail. Still wonder where “lit up the sky” came from, but it does look like dusk. But seeing the video on a larger screen, what looks like plume dispersion now appears more whispy coming from a very tight tail. Without seeing the brightness in the video, it’s difficult to say anything. For certain, radar should be able to determine velocity. Besides no one acknowledging a missile launch, no one is saying they have evidence of a launch or fast missile velocity (other than the one video).

  7. My mother and I, spotted an odd looking contrail, I guessed that it was off calafornia vandenberg . I happen to live in mesa (mesa being the largest suberb of phoenix) friday near dusk

  8. The video clips I’ve seen on the net are just too short to make a definitive conclusion, but it doesn’t look like any type of rocket-boosted vehicle to me. Rocket plumes (at least any solid motor and kerosene-based liquid engines) are much brighter than is depicted in the video. The light contrast in the area where the vehicle is at the end of the contrail should be much higher than anything else in the frame. Launch vehicles launched over the Pacific around sunset or twilight put on magnificent displays for us Southern Californians, and looks something like this:


    This unidentified object doesn’t seem to fit the bills when compared with that Minotaur shot.

    Suborbital and orbital shots would be visible to observers all over Southern California, not confined to so few observers. When I am not at Vandenberg for launches, I view almost every launch from my near my home, 160 miles to the east. They traverse my field of view very quickly even that far away. Whatever this object is, it appears far too slow to be an oribtal or suborbital launch vehicle or missile. Just look at how much the tail of the contrail has expanded, this takes a fair bit of time. A launch vehicle would have already been long gone.

  9. This is just another example of how a minor issue, mistaking a jet contrail for something else, gets blown up into a global media issue by the Internet and bloggers.

    I am sure conspiracy folks will be discussing this for years. I will have to tune into coast to coast tonight see what Richard Hoagland’s views on it are. Should be good for a laugh 🙂

  10. Just another example of TM not realizing the story originated from CBS news. The same trusted news source that gave us “fake but accurate” after bloggers and the Internet investigated further. As of now, it is bloggers backing off the missile story and focusing on the slow response of the government. CBS news still calls it a missile.

  11. I’ve seen these being generated frequently, on both coasts. I’ve also seen a LOT of launches from the west coast. One of the video clips on television was definitely a launch clip, but they mixed stock footage with 11/8 footage in an incomprehensible manner. The stills definitely are aircraft contrails. The video is not possible to interpret, because I think they mixed different shots.

  12. The whole internet is going stark raving nuts over this.

    A commenter at Ticker Forum compared it to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, which I think exactly nails it.

  13. “It’s Global Warming.”

    No! It’s Al Gore flying around in his Super Nobel Laureate cape dispersing aerosols trying to prevent global warming. I guess that means he finally released that 2nd Chakra.

  14. Leland,

    It may have been originated by a CBS station by a reporter who couldn’t recognize a contrail when he saw one, but its the blogsphere that is echoing it around the world and blowing it into a news story.

  15. Thomas, is there something wrong with bloggers discussing the story as we are here? Do you not know that “in the abundance of counselors there is wisdom.” This does not mean everybody discussing it is intelligent or wise, but that among them there are many that are.

    The lamestream media may think they hold a monopoly on wisdom… but they’re idiots. I’ll take the bloggers over the media any day on any topic. Isn’t skepticism a foundation of reason? Which can result in lots of false paths but ultimately lead to the truth?

  16. Yesterday I defended the missile theory. Today I’ve come around to contrail. Why? Because of the crackpots. Quite simply, if this was the Soopa-Sekrit NWO KKKonspiracy rocket launch they’re all assuming it is, then how hard would it be for the Secret Masters to issue a statement claiming it was a missile test and put an end to all the speculation? The repeated denials from every space-capable agency are more convincing.

  17. I’ve come around to the jet contrail theory because somebody posted pictures of it from a different angle.

    Further testimony that the craft was moving too slow also helped, as did my realization that the “base” of the “launch” column was easily big enough to be a space shuttle launch, not a mere missile.

    I rarely give much weight, yea or nay, to the more extreme proponents of any given idea; that’s what’s known as being “reactionary.”

  18. Interestingly enough, the first I heard of the “it’s just a jet” idea was on the Final Frontier face book page. The artist Don Davis (who does a lot of space paintings) mentioned that to him the lighting on the contrail was all wrong for a rocket launch. I’m sure the real rocket scientists here already know this but when a rocket launches, the lighting on the contrail changes as it climbs to higher altitudes. Don mentioned that the lighting on this contrail was pretty consistent, which suggests the object was at a fairly constant altitude. Again, this may not be particularly interesting news to those who do this for a living, but as a lowly code pusher, I found it interesting.

  19. Geez, it was pretty obvious from the beginning that it was a contrail.

    I hope the people who just now have come around to accept the “contrail” explanation remember their mistake in the future, and are a bit more humble in when they “just know” you have seen something.

  20. Ken,

    Ah, the wisdom of crowds myth. I believe this Robert Heinlein quote applies to that Internet myth.

    Wisdom is not additive; its maximum is that of the wisest man in a given group.
    Robert Heinlein, Glory Road, 1963

    For a good illustration of Robert Heinlein’s quote in action google “Kasparov versus the World”

    Really this story is a great illustration of how quickly the Internet adds “noise” to a simple story turning it into a source of conspiracy ideas and misinformation. This story is a illustration of why gatekeepers have emerged in every new media that has been created in the last couple of hundred years.


  21. That’s silly, Thomas, even if it does come from Heinlein — who, I suggest, had a lot of loopy ideas as well as some sound ones. Collective wisdom is also not determined simply by an OR operation between individuals. I can think of loads of situations where two heads are better than one, even if the one is twice as smart, and I’m sure you can, too. (Example: allow the smartest person in the world to design, build and drive an Indy 500 car — and let compete against him a team of a better than average mechanical engineer, mechanic, and professional race-car driver.)

  22. Wisdom is not additive

    Your assertion, via Heinlein, seems to completely misunderstand what wisdom is. You can have an abundance of knowledge yet not have wisdom. You can have an abundance of understanding yet not have wisdom. You can even have wisdom yet have an abundance of ignorance (if you understand the neutrality of ignorance.)

    Wisdom only happens upon reflection and requires experience and meditation on experience, knowledge and understanding.

    I claim no wisdom in making these assertions. However, I do hold wisdom in esteem and believe I recognize it in others.

    Ah, the wisdom of crowds myth.

    I do know it’s not wise to proclaim such ignorance (and lack of humility otherwise known as arrogance.) The “abundance of counselors” quote comes from a book known as a source of wisdom and written by a person, Solomon, somewhat known for his wisdom. He didn’t say, “abundance of crowds.” He said, “counselors” suggesting selectivity.

    Wisdom often requires discernment which your arrogant statement lacks.

  23. Fred Thompson: “A video of an oddly-shaped trail of smoke in the sky off the coast of Southern California led to speculation that a missile was fired, though the US military says their was no launch.

    It’ll probably turn out to be just a flare sent up by some Californians hoping to be rescued before Jerry Brown takes office.”

  24. Carl,

    [[[(Example: allow the smartest person in the world to design, build and drive an Indy 500 car — and let compete against him a team of a better than average mechanical engineer, mechanic, and professional race-car driver.)]]]

    You are making the common mistake of confusing an individual’s intelligence (smart) with wisdom. Intelligence is the potential to learn and acquire knowledge. Wisdom by contrast includes actual knowledge of a topic which is why Heinlein used it in his quote.

    For example, a mechanical engineer may make a great auto designer because they have worked to gain the knowledge of mechanical systems, via school, training and work experience, needed and I would accept their opinions on autos. But unless they have invested similar time and systematic effort in learning economics their views on it would be no more informed then any other individual. And of no more value.

  25. Ken,

    [[[He didn’t say, “abundance of crowds.” He said, “counselors” suggesting selectivity.]]]

    Which supports my point. Selectivity means gatekeepers, someone who determines who is qualified to be a “counselor”, which is in contrast to the blogsphere where there is no selectivity.

  26. So what are your qualifications to be a gatekeeper in the blogsphere, TM? Why do you want to be a censor of the discussion?

  27. For example, a mechanical engineer may make a great auto designer because they have worked to gain the knowledge of mechanical systems, via school, training and work experience, needed and I would accept their opinions on autos. But unless they have invested similar time and systematic effort in learning economics their views on it would be no more informed then any other individual.

    Thomas, this paragraph highlights your complete lack of understanding of what wisdom is. Being informed is not wisdom. Being smart is not wisdom. Wisdom is beyond information, knowledge, experience. Wisdom is even more than understanding. Wisdom is about right and wrong, not the data that feeds it. But it’s even more than that, it’s about the wise or foolish choices an individual makes.

    Selectivity means gatekeepers

    No. No. NO! No it doesn’t. A gatekeeper would keep you from the abundance of councelors and skew the info you receive. More specifically it means an INDIVIDUAL actively seeks information from an abundance of sources, many if not mostly WRONG, to discover the truth.

    Thomas, you’re a smart guy, but that doesn’t prevent foolishness.

    As my dead stepdad used to tell me a wise man can learn from fools, but fools learns from nobody.

  28. Ken,

    [[[Wisdom is about right and wrong, not the data that feeds it.]]]

    Again, you are missing the point.

    Without some filter system the critical data to make a good decision is often gets lost in the false data. This is the weakness of the Internet, anything may be put on it by anyone, and if you have NO reference to judge its quality by there is no way to tell good information from false information. That is why conspiracy theories have exploded in recent decades.

    And this case illustrates it. Anyone with the expertise to recognize a contrail would know what that was instantly by looking at the picture, but because so many who didn’t know what a contrail looks like raise questions about it online, even the experts doubted their opinion and made some dumb statements. This is a classic illustration of how the desire to go with the crowd, i.e. follow the fad, that misleads folks into making poor decisions. Its what happens when there are no gatekeepers to check facts. Look at Wikipedia, they even modified their open policy to make individuals responsible to check facts on their pages.

  29. if you have NO reference to judge its quality

    You’ve put your finger on the key point. Let’s compare our solutions…

    Yours… Provide a gatekeeper. Your gatekeeper is now the point of failure. If s/he’s right, great. If s/he’s wrong, tough luck.

    Mine… Abundance of sources. No single point of failure. You actively seek disagreements to compare and contrast. This is how you avoid ‘fake but accurate.’

    I’d much rather go with Powerline, TM, et. al. rather than the editor of the NYTs.

  30. Ken,

    Yes, your solution is to burn up huge amounts of time basically reinventing the wheel on each issue by trying to figure out who is telling the truth and who is lying. Who knows what they are talking about and who knows nothing.

    And in the process often falling for dead end band wagons movements like the Tea Party that are just repeating history, again and again.

    Check out this 1959 Tea Party poster

    Look familiar?

    I guess if you have nothing to do all day your approach it OK. But if you do have better things to do with your time you look for quality gatekeepers to filter the garbage out so you don’t waste time on it. That is why news magazines and major newspapers emerged.

  31. Thomas, everybody has gatekeepers, another name for people they trust. But you are suggesting you restrict yourself to just those few. This is why the apostle Paul suggesting widening out. You see it’s very easy to put yourself in an echo chamber and insulate yourself from any chance of accidental discovery.

    This is why all or your republican friends voted for Reid.

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