This morning the news media are filled with reports of a "mystery missile" fired off the California coast near Los Angeles. At this moment, the Drudge Report headline screams "MYSTERY MISSILE FIRED OFF CA COAST; PENTAGON 'NO CLUE'. CBS News in Los Angeles is reporting, " A mysterious missile launch off the southern California coast was caught by CBS affiliate KCBS's cameras Monday night, and officials are staying tight-lipped over the nature of the projectile. CBS station KFMB put in calls to the Navy and Air Force Monday night about the striking launch off the coast of Los Angeles, which was easily visible from the coast, but the military has said nothing about the launch." http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/09/national/main7036716.shtml
Here is the news video of the object:
It certainly looks like a missile launch! But is it? The Pentagon denies all knowledge of any possible launch, and if a foreign country were to fire a missile so close to our shores, it would be an act of war.
Well, as surprising as it may sound, the object seems to have been simply an aircraft contrail, with tricks of perspective making it look like a missile flying away from you, when in fact it was an aircraft flying toward you! This is not the first time such a thing has happened. On Dec. 31, 2009, much the same excitement occurred off the coast just south of Los Angeles in Orange County. This blog from ContrailsScience.com lays it all out with impeccable logic: http://contrailscience.com/a-problem-of-perspective-in-the-oc-new-years-eve-contrail/
First, it depends on an effect of perspective. The aircraft's path must be directly toward, or away from, the observer. Second, even though the contrail is five miles above the ground, as it recedes into the distance it appears to touch the ground, because of the curvature of the earth. As shown by the daytime photo of the vertical contrail on ContrailsScience, we know that the aircraft that made it was not flying straight up like a rocket, but when seen directly straight-on, that is what it looks like. And for viewers a few miles away, getting a different perspective, all they see is an ordinary-looking slanted contrail.
Nor is the California Coast the only place where this same illusion has been sighted, and reported. As I wrote in my Psychic Vibrations column (Skeptical Inquirer, July/Aug., 2010), in January, 2010 residents of the tiny Canadian coastal town of Harbour Mille, Newfoundland reported seeing exactly the same 'mystery missiles' as was photographed near Los Angeles yesterday (see http://www.tinyurl.com/rocketsNL ). One Canadian politician went to far as to blame the French for launching missiles so close to Canadian territory. But the French replied that they had not launched anything on that day. But the Finnish UFO investigator Bjorn Borg explained how the Newfoundland "missiles' are simply contrails seen at just the right angle (see http://www.tinyurl.com/rocket-illusion ). "Every year this comes up in the news," he said.
And the award for Best Pompous Pontification by an Uninformed Ass goes to former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Ellsworth, also a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, who was happy to appear on TV and speculate that, because President Obama is in Asia, "It could be a test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine … to demonstrate, mainly to Asia, that we can do that." As if anyone in Asia seriously doubted that the U.S. could launch missiles from a submarine! Ellsworth added that ICBM testing was carried out in the Atlantic to demonstrate America's power to the Soviets during the Cold War, but he says doesn't believe an ICBM has been tested by the U.S. over the Pacific. I have two words for him: Vandenberg and Kwajalein. Such ICBM tests over the Pacific occur on a regular basis (see http://www.krsjv.com/Pages/Mission.aspx ). So much for seeking "informed comments" from a former Deputy Secretary of defense.
(Be sure to also see the following post, "Conspiracy Theorists Continue to Flog 'Mystery Missile' ".