Home » News » Bizarro » What the!? Rocket Launch off Cali Coast Still a Mystery (updated)

What the!? Rocket Launch off Cali Coast Still a Mystery (updated)

by John Reed on November 9, 2010

Like I asked an hour ago, anyone know anything about what appears to be a mystery missile launched off the Southern California coast on Monday?

I just heard back from NORAD about it and they still don’t know that the object was.

“At this time we are unable to provide specific details but we are working to determine the exact nature of this event,” NORAD spokesman Staff Sgt. Thomas Doscher said. “We can confirm that there is no indication of any threat to our nation and will provide more information as it becomes available.”

U.S. Navy officials have told a local TV station that it wasn’t them and nearby Vandenberg Air Force base says it hasn’t launched a missile since last week. How does no one know what this was?

Any suggestions as to what it could be? Did SpaceX founder Elon Musk decide to give the people of Los Angeles a show with some secret new product? Or maybe, as many have suggested, it’s just a plane’s contrail seen at a weird angle. This would make sense, given the lack of awareness on this event at the Pentagon.

Check out the video below.

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{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous November 9, 2010 at 11:49 am

"We made a bunch of calls and nobody knew so instead we dug up this random old guy to see what he thinks."

It seems very plausible it could either be a submarine or warship considering it's 35miles out to sea.


Brian November 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

My Guess: The navy test firing a MQM-8G Vandal. Too small for something going to space, or a trident 2.


Brian November 9, 2010 at 11:59 am

Oh I forgot they are RIM-67's now.


Moose November 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Actually it looks far too big to be a Standard. At 35 miles, that looks pretty close to how a D-5 would look.


Travis November 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

According to a comment thread on Reddit (not the most reliable source), there was a NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) about this issue. It was most likely a USAF ICBM test out of San Nicholas.


Dave P November 9, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Then why don't the penagon know a thing about it? Is the US military really so broken that one half doesn't know what the other half is doing, even for situations that would perhaps cause alarm and panic amongsy the peole it's charged with protecting?
Sure seems that way., what a joke.


@Cr4shDummy November 9, 2010 at 10:28 pm

A Boeing Employee (with a TS clearance) told me the same thing when I asked about this.


Brian November 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm

notam from FAA:


Josh November 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

This NOTAM is for tonight – is there anything for last night posted?


davids November 9, 2010 at 12:50 pm

I seriously doubt it were any type of 'typical' surface to air missile to shot down an airplane. North Korea has played around with the possibility of launching a missile from a submarine on the surface. It makes me wonder if N Korea, or someone else, would be testing our response time when something unexpected like this happens.


Rik November 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm

And the frightening thing is if this was a NORK missile fired the Pentagon wouldn't know a thing about were it not for a t.v camera crew.


Rik November 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Heck even the damn USN claims to no nothing about it even though they issuesd the damn warning, talk about a retarded and broken military!


noquarter November 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Has anyone bothered to ask the FAA? I remember taking a bunch of boyscouts out onto the high desert to launch a pretty substantial amateur model rocket and we were required to submit the launch date and time to FAA for approval prior to launch so that they could issue a NOTAM


Michael November 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm

It was the Rocketeer!


Anthony November 9, 2010 at 2:44 pm

probably someone unlocked the 50 killstreak in call of duty black ops – icbm launch


theCelt November 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Bet that won't make China happy . . .

P.s. Is there a 50 kill streak in CoD Black Ops?


Richard Thomas Mitchell November 11, 2010 at 7:37 pm

lol thats kinda funny


john November 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Its the missing weapons of Mass Destruction!


Belesari November 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm

No those have already been accounted for and were removed.


Miles November 10, 2010 at 4:49 am

Welll, the materials to build them have anyway, shipped to Canada if I remember rightly, yes I did: http://articles.cnn.com/2008-07-07/us/iraq.uraniu


Dan November 9, 2010 at 3:05 pm

A China sub responding to QE2! Just a little show to get our attention.


Musson November 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm

That is the scariest thing I have heard yet.


Anonymous November 9, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Lot of talk about it being an airplane contrail and the shimmering effect being reflective sunlight.

Naval analyst Raymond Pritchett makes a smart point: that the mystery itself is becoming a security problem.

“When someone makes an unannounced launch what looks to be a ballistic missile 35 miles from the nations second largest city (at sea in international waters), and 18 hours later NORAD still doesn’t have any answers at all – that complete lack of information represents a credible threat to national security,” he writes. “If NORAD can’t answer the first and last question, then I believe it is time to question every single penny of ballistic missile defense funding in the defense budget. NORTHCOM needs to start talking about what they do know, rather than leaving the focus on what they don’t know.


JOEAMERICA November 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Really not that funny. Unless it was accidental there would be a NOTAM with site closure for YESTERDAY. If it was accidental, there would be immediate notification from any military source to Pentagon. We do not do "Black" ICBM launches because of the real danger presented by surprise launch detection via space and other resources of foreign militaries. Even the Stalinists in Nor Kor don't Black launch intermediate range missiles.

Most concerning however is that there was no apparent immediate military response to the launch source for, at minimum, observation and recon. Does this tell us that in this day and age we don't have realtime launch detection for large, hot, fast, self-propelled, high altitude ballistic bodies in our continental and near coast environment? If we do have same,
do we not have protocol for immediate recon and threazt identification response?

If not, somebody owes us several Trillion Dollars, and we damn sure better dust off the old DEW line and re-man some 1950's NORAD RADAR sites.

Nonetheless we are damned sure owed an explanation, AND FAST.


Brian November 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

The government did it. How in the world has the Gaul or the resources to launch a missile so close to a major US city other than our government. There was no need for the recon because we know who did it, we did.


Lance_HBomb November 10, 2010 at 7:05 am

Explanation: If it were the contrails of your average plane, which the US has hundreds of thousands, if not millions of them, flying over American airspace.

NORAD does not detect and analyze every darn commercial or non-military plane. That's not the military's job, that's the job of civilian agencies.

Hence, the military has no explanation for it because they can't explain every overblown story the media hyped up. Sure, it's an honest mistake, but that's almost at the level of the Air Force being held accountable for a UFO sighting.


Guy November 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I would assume that if they didn't have any idea what it was, sensors or observers would have picked it up and the nearby air bases would have scrambled assets, especially ASW, which people would have noticed. The fact that nothing has come of it is indicative that they know what happened. The "No one knows" bit is likely just a ploy till it blows over and everyone forgets about it.


Stephen Wagstaff November 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm

There is a very short list of players outside of the US Navy capable of such a launch, if this was indeed a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The chief suspects to me would seem to be Russia or China.

While Russia would seem to have little motive for such a demonstration, they have much quieter subs more likely to reach the US coast while avoiding detection. China, straddling the Pacific Rim like a newborn superpower, just might have the gumption to have pulled this stunt. Their relatively noisy Xia of Jin-class missile-carrying submarines might be hard-pressed to reach the Pacific coast without being noticed. Then again, perhaps our lack of a permanent underwater SOSUS-like presence in the Pacific and our quickly-dwindling fleet mean that coastal penetration by an enemy SSBN is no longer difficult. If so, we should be very worried indeed.


Janiz98 November 9, 2010 at 8:51 pm


This caught my attention.

JoePudpounder says:
January 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm
This photograph clearly shows the contrail of a solid-fueled rocket with a mock-warhead. It was launched from more than 100 feet under water and propelled to the surface by compressed air. Once it cleared the water the boosters ignited and pushed the rocket uupward at near supersonic speeds. It is a test for the submariners for launching the ballistic missle and then getting the heck outta Dodge before their location can be triangulated and attacked with a retaliatory strike. From my experience aboard a “boomer” boat, I’d say it was launched about 35-50 miles off the west coast from a place where the submarine can hide amongst the rocks and underwater camouflage for protection from satellites that can possibly direct a tracking laser or doppler beam. I am surprised to see the Obama administration finally acknowledging the reality of war and protection of our nation, but this has to be something big and particularly dangerous that the military has to keep secret. Rightfully so…


Zed November 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Assuming, the DoD/FAA did not plan or expect it, was the missile/rocket large enough to be detected by STSS sats ? If NORAD/MDA had no clue until the local news broke the story, that would be the real story and a problem.


John November 9, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Chinese missile launch warning in response to Fed QE2.


John moore November 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm


Just a possibility it was some University grads/students partying on a boat and decided to let off one of there rockets?


theCelt November 9, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Personally, I wish it was my home-made missile.

But I could settle with a nuke to the Middle East.


Justin H November 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Its the Russian Club-K shipping container missile launch system, aka missile in a box.


Day November 10, 2010 at 7:17 am

nope. club-k isnt ready for deployment, and anyway, from the footage ive seen, that contrail does not match the flight or engine characteristics of a surface skimming cruise missile.


chaos0xomega November 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm

well, interestingly enough, also in the headlines this morning was an article about a cruise ship that suffered an engine fire last night near that area (don't have the exact location, but said to be in the SoCal area. I wonder if the two incidents are possibly connected?


Okki November 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

According to sources at Danger Room, the "missile" is an optical illusion. It's actually a horizontal contrail of a jet, flying towards the new helicopter. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/11/mystery-m


Matt Holzmann November 9, 2010 at 5:51 pm

way back in the day, my brother flew commuters up and down California. At night, he would occasionally hear ATC conversing with pilots who were not on the radar. These were strange conversations that centered around the Mojave desert. A year or two later, a F-117 crashed, thus announcing its existence to the world.

When the government/military doesn't want to talk about something, they don't. The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club.


Michael November 9, 2010 at 5:59 pm

IF this was a contrail, what does that mean? About us as Americans I mean? Cautions? Overly-cautious? Over-reactionary? Just trying to think of an honest assessment…


joe November 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Man All you guys are wrong…it's quite obvious this is a New delivery system of Cocain by the Mexican Drug Cartels to Counter our ever suffisticated electronic Border Wall and counter those 1200 National Guardsmen that The President ordered to Arizona.

You might want to get use to seeing these by the way…


Orion November 9, 2010 at 8:18 pm

It was my Hot Water Heater now I like to know the VHCD of LZ so I could collect the warranty, Some things are better left unknown Lads and Lasses… ; )


Ross Anderson November 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm

If you look in the video, you can see the in the close up of the 'missile' that the flare of the engine fades from a orangish red to green. This begs the question what has flashing green lights that flies? Answer: an airliner with its landing lights on


@Earlydawn November 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

If this was some kind of ballistic launch, wouldn't it have showed up on the infrared birds in orbit?


Miles November 10, 2010 at 3:31 am

Yes! It would but I thought the NOTAM alrady had this solved?


John November 10, 2010 at 1:43 am

San Nicolas has an air strip which can support C5 landings and is setup to support Polar Orbital lanches which is often used for spy satellites. I think it was a rocket with a spy satellite……


Geoff November 11, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Bingo! I came to the same conclusion. Look at page 56 of Forbes Magazine dated 11-22-10. The National Reconnaissance Office purchased a dozen nano-satellites from a company named Pumpkin to be launched in November. San Nicolas launches small rockets like the Tomahawk and has all the radar gear needed. SpaceX is cited in the Forbes story to launch at least a few of these satellites. They also use aircraft to ship their rockets.


Miles November 10, 2010 at 3:37 am

Here's another thought, they didn't announce it and tried keeping it quiet because they're testing a conventional warhead attached to that Trident. (I assume it's a Trident)


Roland November 10, 2010 at 4:17 am

Probably some republican testing it's home made missiles.


Maxtrue November 10, 2010 at 8:26 am

- Roland, another smart observation…..


Joe Buff November 10, 2010 at 5:28 am

Instead of an airliner contrail it could also be the contrail of an earth-grazing meteor. As others noted, a trick of perspective can make it appear to be rising into the sky when in fact it originated beyond the viewer's horizon. The meteor probably broke into more than one piece, and its contrail was shredded by hi-altitude winds Autumn is the peak time of year for meteors, with several major showers, and such things have been observed before. The term "missile" seems to have originated from the mass media yesterday. The video and stills do not to my eyes anyway show any surface or subsurface launch event.


Day November 10, 2010 at 7:22 am

At the moment id go with jet contrails, but IF it were a launch, is it possible it could have been an early test of Arc-Light or a similar missile?


Squeeze November 10, 2010 at 1:13 pm

On Sunday morning November 7 around midnight. I notice strange red lights, one right after the other in the exact location where this launch occurred. The lights were almost in a straight line and too close to be commercial airplanes. Solid red lights, nothing blinking, they just kept going higher and higher until I could no longer see them. I counted about 8. Any clue what these are?


jamesb November 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm

This WAS a missle people….

Airline jets don't climb straight out….
There was a NOTAM
There is single line contrail……
Airline jet's have two engine's…
Someone messed up here..
They should have just said….. we fired a missile…
End of story….


wwonderwwoman November 10, 2010 at 3:14 pm

“At this time we are unable to provide specific details but we are working to determine the exact nature of this event,”

This doesnt mean they dont know what it is, it just means they are not going to tell us yet. The sense of entitlement our citizens think they have has become ludicrous. Please do not for a moment think that our defense systems have deteriorated to the point that we cant even monitor our own country! Not telling us is not the same as not knowing….c'mon now……we need to take the focus of our "rights" and start focusing on our "responsibilities".


PPD50 November 10, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Don't be surprised when they explain it away as a weather balloon.


mike November 11, 2010 at 7:09 am

Scramjet testing


matt November 11, 2010 at 9:17 am

This is a good wake up call people. Start thinking about making allies with other rationally minded countries so we can keep crazy countries like China in line.


cscott2 November 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I suppose if you do in fact believe that the world is flat, that the rocket option is the only explanation. For those who aren't aware, however, it's not flat and the contrail of a jet flying toward you at a constant altitude will appear to be going "up". This is in fact what we're seeing in these pictures and videos.

It's also true that there are some distinctive characteristics of jet contrails vs rocket launches. One is that jets tend to fly at a relatively constant speed and rockets tend to accelerate significantly. If this was a rocket, by the time it got to the altitude that may think it is, it would be traveling much faster than this object.

It's also important to note the dual-vortex characteristic of the contrail causing it to wrap up on both sides, just as it's doing in the pictures. That's caused by the vortex the wing generates and it continues to curl out over time.

There's so many other things about this event, such as the contrail drift, the sun angle, reflections off the aircraft, and the atmospheric conditions that frequently cause contrails to grow into larger clouds, etc, that make this a clear case of a jet.

Sorry folks, that's what it is. I know it's not as much fun that way, but it is what it is.


Curt November 12, 2010 at 5:17 am

But the truth makes such a boring story for the conspiracy theorist. Don't forget to add in the fact that no one else, including literally hundreds of pilots airborne in the LAX area saw anything out of the ordinary. No one on San Clemente Island say anything. No one in the shipping lanes around LA-Long Beach saw anything, and you can go on forever. Why was exactly one news helo able to see a missile launch that no one else in the entire area able to see despite the fact on clear days you can see missile launches for hundreds of miles. Oh, and the fact that if it was a commercial airliner flying over LA (Say a US Air flight headed toward Phoenix from Hawaii for example) and similiar conditions existed the next day, you should experience a similiar contrail at the same time. Since conditions were similar and a similiar contrail was visible within 5 minutes of the reported time the next day, it would seem pretty conclusive that it was a contrail. Of course I could be working for the government and just trying to throw you off the truth.


Matt Holzmann November 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm

please let me clarify. What happens in Airforceclub stays in Airforceclub.


crackedlenses November 12, 2010 at 9:41 am

If you go back and watch the video you'll notice how it's flight patterns wavers at first then straightens out. It is the guidance system kicking in, if I'm not mistaken……


Mike November 12, 2010 at 9:45 am

So if it's an airplane, what carrier? What flight? Where did it take off from? Why would that not be readily available info?


cmanap40 November 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

This is an experiment using Holography to confuse we Americans. The purpose is to fake UFO sightings, and to creat unexplicable faked events to push various agendas of the CIA, NSA, Homeland Defense and the purpse is to cause fear and mass confusion.
People, The United States Citizen is in the process of having so much bull shoved up where the son doesn't shine thatwe won't know whether we are coming or going. Our Government will cause mass confusion and mass hystiria. This in turn will cause a further erosion of American freedom. Thes Holographic images can also be used to push the phony climate change/warming caused by mankind.


mike November 12, 2010 at 10:31 am

That's exactly what i thought. Good catch.


JPE November 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Wow, as always: a lot of creativity here. But this looks a lot like something I see every day surfing at sun-set after work off the shores of LA/Orange Country. Its called a contrail.. from an airliner. And a bit of optical illusion.

I haven't read all the brilliant commentary above, so someone's probably pointed this out, but note that the contrail is entirely orange, that means its stays low and at a roughly const altitude. At sunset, rocket plumes (this does look a bit like the dense exhaust from a solid rocket) change color as they get higher up as they leave the earth's partially shaded region and get into direct sunlight.

This doesn't. So, given occam's razor concepts (or KISS, Keep It Simple, Stupid): its just a airliner coming towards the viewer, the older portions of the contrail spread by wind giving the appearance of a towering rocket plume.


roland November 13, 2010 at 6:32 pm

The only way we will know is by going there to see what it was. It could be some test flight from xspace or California navy missile test.


roland November 13, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Could be an accidental launch. Somebody might have tea off the coffee ..oops I slip off and press the red button!


DragonNapolean November 13, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Chinese field testing its new 094 sub, JL2 sub-launch missile, and its new anti-carrier ballistic missile that can sink a carrier with one strike. Test cases were done near the shore of US's two largest cities–LA and NYork. Simple explanation that Pentagon will kill to hide to avoid escalation because it was US fault: War cames off China coast, and pumping useless U$650 into the economy, stealing from the U$1 trillion debt it owes China.


spyder November 15, 2010 at 1:56 pm

aren't these launches routine? used to be.


CDR McC November 15, 2010 at 9:37 pm

“At this time we are unable to provide specific details but we are working to determine the exact nature of this event,”

As wwonderwwoman points out, nobody HAS to tell us what it was. The Pentagon would never keep anything from us would they?
There is NOTHING that doesn't get seen by satellite or other detection systems. As for an optical illusion, this was seen and reported by many people from many, many different angles. We may never be told what it really was, but if it were a foreign power launch, there is NO WAY the investigation could be kept secret.


guest December 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm

i think it wuz the bildebergs stickin more shit in the air for everyone to consume, like the chemical contrails except on a bigger scale


t.farmer January 28, 2011 at 3:46 am

Still no real answers or have we moved on and forgot about it? Birds, fish,all dieing and Cheney isn’t? If we don’t press for answers, the gov. Will keep ************ us til we obey like good little sheep. They are ruining our world, and I’m ****** off my child gets to grow up in this time, I can’t even take an inflate boat in a lake in SD w/ out some gov. F#@k saying” no boating here, quagga mussels might be on your boat” give me a break!!!! God help us


rodjo March 4, 2011 at 11:29 pm

somebody greed belongs in custodys from defectors to executives. I would rather see him swinging numb chucks outside my door. Now he swinging B52s nuclear bombs patriot battery sold to israel then to china, long range missle tech, to stealth missle tech. 38years 2months ago he was swinging numb chucks lackland afb san antonieo texas


D-Bag G June 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Its obviously a promo for the new movie Apollo 18. Geez


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Rik November 9, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Seems more like lazy Pentagon who should know what is going on amongst their own forces.


Miles November 10, 2010 at 4:52 am

Bulava would have blown up, what you say? Well half of those that have been launched have so it be a 50/50


Boogel November 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm

That’s what I was thinking. Somehow one of our missile ignited and had to be launched to save the boat. As soon as it happened the navy went into cover your ass mode because it did in fact have an active warhead on it. So somewhere out in the middle of the ocean there are navy crews desperately looking for this silly thing right now. The last thing anyone needs is to have a blogger break the news about how we lost an atomic warhead. This story is never going to see sunlight.


jamesb November 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

commerical a/c don't have single line contrails folks…


blight November 10, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I guess we'll all be watching King's Point for buzz about replacing a D5. Or maybe they'll make up a story about testing Tridents sometime recently?


blight November 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Argh, I was thinking of King's Bay…and it should actually be Bangor.


Fox November 10, 2010 at 10:29 pm

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