Experts say 'mystery missile' neither mystery nor missile

Updated: Body of opinion moving toward optical illusion as explanation

We closed business yesterday with a parade of military and government officials professing to know nothing of what appeared to be a missile launch off the coast of California, and awaken this morning to the news that there's nothing to see here, people, just move along.

Or so say some experts who couldn't find their way in front of a camera before this story exploded on Tuesday.

(Update: See Department of Defense statement below.)

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A clever Washington Post headline clues us in: "Mystery in sky over California may be plane as day." From that story:

Said John Pike, a defense and aerospace expert who runs "This thing is so obviously an airplane contrail, and yet apparently all the king's horses and all the king's men can't find someone to stand up and say it." He added, "I guess the president's out of town."

The object, Pike said, was moving too slowly to be a missile, adding: "There's a reason that they're called rockets."

Pike's view is backed up by the vigilant folks at Contrail Science (there really is a site on the Web for everything) who documented a similar episode from Jan. 19 and compare it with the latest "missile" sighting.  

Note it's pretty much in the same location. Note also it's not exactly moving at missile speed.  Note also it's practically identical to the photos of plane contrails, above.

Same as last time, maybe even the same scheduled flight.

And once again millions of people failed to notice, because from any other angle it looked like what it was, a contrail, from a plane.

Sounds plausible. And then there's the weather guy.

Meteorologist Kevin Martin of the Southern California Weather Authority is a believer in the airplane theory, too.

"We see this often when the flights come at the right time, however, some people are just out to witness it at the right time," Martin told in Los Angeles. "We had strong winds up there as well as really cold temperatures from a passing storm system. This also had an area of upper level moisture ... where airliners fly."

OK, call me convinced, yet there has been no official confirmation and the military is said to be continuing a missile count just in case one has gone missing.

Meanwhile, a writer at New York magazine offers eight, count 'em, eight possible explanations, including:

A dejected Meg Whitman decided to leave Earth behind after spending $141 million of her fortune on a losing gubernatorial run, and set off to live out the rest of her days hurtling through space aboard her personal spacecraft, alone.

 At least no one is calling it a weather balloon.

(Update: This statement from the Department of Defense all but closes the book on missile talk ... at least for those who believe statements from the Department of Defense:

"While there is nothing at this time that leads the Department of Defense to believe this is a missile launch, the department and other U.S. government agencies with expertise in aviation and space continue to look into the condensation trail (CONTRAIL) seen and reported off the coast of southern California on Monday evening.

"All DoD entities with rocket and missile programs reported no launches, scheduled or inadvertent, during the time period in the area of the reported contrail. NORAD and USNORTHCOM confirmed that it did not monitor any foreign military missile launch off the California coast yesterday and has determined that there was no threat to the US homeland.

"In addition, the FAA ran radar replays from Monday afternoon of a large area west of Los Angeles. Those replays did not reveal any fast-moving, unidentified targets. The FAA also did not receive reports of any unusual sightings from pilots who were flying in the area Monday afternoon.

"If any new information comes to light in the coming days, we will update the press and public.") 

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