Pentagon unable to explain 'mystery missile' video

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An example of a contrail, following a missile launch in 2008

U.S. military officials said on Tuesday they did not know what produced a contrail, or vapor trail, caught on tape the day before by Los Angeles, California television station KCBS. The Pentagon is investigating the incident but does not consider it a threat to U.S. security.

Around 5 p.m. PT Monday evening (0100 UTC), a news helicopter from KCBS recorded the vapor trail of what appeared to be a missile traveling 35 miles (56 kilometres) west of the Los Angeles. However, no standard missile testing procedures were followed in this case: air space was not restricted and ships were not told to avoid the area. Pentagon spokesperson Colonel David Lapan said that any such test was "implausible" due to the close proximity of the sighting to Los Angeles International Airport.

The United States Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command released a statement in response to the sighting, saying, "At this time, we can confirm that there is no threat to our nation and from all indications this was not a launch by a foreign military. Pentagon officials said they did not know the origins of the vapor trail, but they were looking into the matter. Lapan said that they are "still trying to find out what the contrail off the coast of southern California was caused by," but that currently, "all indications are that it was not a DoD activity."

Some say that there was no launch, and that the plume caught on video were simply part of an optical illusion., a website seeking to disprove conspiracy theories related to contrails, said that an airplane moving directly toward a viewer leaves a contrail that appears to rise vertically. However, this is due to the curvature of the earth, and the vapor is actually horizontal.

John Pike, of, added that the flying object producing the vapor trail was not a rocket because it seemed to change direction. On Tuesday, Pike said that what the KCBS crew recorded was "clearly an airplane contrail. It's an optical illusion that looks like it's going up, whereas in reality it's going towards the camera. The tip of the contrail is moving far too slowly to be a rocket. When it's illuminated by the sunset, you can see hundreds of miles of it ... all the way to the horizon."

An anonymous official from the U.S. Northern Command said the vapor trail may have been caused by a plane. He said it was similar to a contrail seen around New Year's Eve last year, also thought at first to be from a missile launch.

Federal Aviation Administration officials said that they examined radar replays of the area around Los Angeles, but no missile-like objects were detected. They also said that no pilots in the region reported seeing anything unusual that around the time of the sighting. Military exercises involving missiles are not rare around the Southern California coastal area, with launches occurring west of Point Mugu.