High-res version

This footage is from a webcam mounted outside the CFHT astronomical observatory in Hawaii on Mauna Kea. 

Recently there’s been a lot of weird stuff happening in our skies that makes you drop your jaw and wonder “what the hell was that?!”. For example the Norway Spiral which freaked out the entire world and turned the conspiracy sites up side down with theories of what it could be. Was it an opening to another dimension? A new kind of weapon? HAARP?

But as the Norway Spiral eventually got a reasonable explanation to what it was (a phenomenal light show caused by an out-of-control rocket booster jetting out fuel in space) this new video has now also gotten a more earthly explanation of what happened.

Read more below:

“So what is it? Is it a trans-dimensional portal into the future, some wormhole from the Pegasus galaxy, or two alien spaceships battling it out?

In point of fact, we are seeing something related to space war…

Asterisk board member calvin 737 was the first to suggest it might be related to a Minuteman III missile launch around that time. As more people on the forum dug into it, the timing was found to be right. The missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (in California) at 03:35 Hawaii time, just minutes before the halo was seen. I noticed the stars of Cassiopeia are visible in the webcam, so the view was to the northeast, which is the right direction to see the missile as well.

OK, the timing and direction are perfect, so the rocket is clearly the culprit… but how, exactly?

One suggestion was that it’s due to the shock wave as the supersonic missile blew through the tenuous upper atmosphere. I’ve heard some rumblings that this might be the cause, but I’m not convinced. I thought shock excitation has to be pretty strong to get air to glow (any experts out there willing to comment?) and the movement of the missile may not be enough for that. Also, in that case I’d expect to see more of a disk pattern than a thin ring, since the missile would be continuously blowing through the (very tenuous) atmosphere. The thin ring indicates to me this was most likely a single, short event. And if you posit the shock wave wasn’t continuous as the missile moved, but instead was generated rapidly and ceased (maybe as the missile pierced some atmospheric layer) I don’t see how a shock wave would create a ring that moves physically across the sky; it would expand away from a single point. Again, this idea doesn’t convince me.

Another idea posted by board member neufer was that this was from a detonation charge in the missile’s third stage. There are ports, openings in the sides of the third stage. Those ports are sealed for the flight until the right time, when they’re blown open by explosive charges. This allows the fuel to escape very rapidly, extinguishing the thrust at a precise time to allow for accurate targeting of the warhead.

At this point, the missile is above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, essentially in space. So when that gas is suddenly released from the stage expands, it blows away from the missile in a sphere. Not only that, the release is so rapid it would expand like a spherical shell — which would look like a ring from the ground (the same way a soap bubble looks like a ring). And not only that, but the expanding gas would be moving very rapidly relative to the ground since the missile would’ve been moving rapidly at this point in the flight.

These are all exactly what was seen in the webcam footage. The timing of all this works out as well: as pointed out in that forum thread the third stage firing terminates about three minutes into flight, which is when the halo seems to appear.

So there you have it! I think this covers it: a missile launches from California, and three minutes or so later the third stage releases an explosive charge which blows fuel out into space. This fuel expands in a shell, fades as it gets bigger, and appears to move across the sky as it does so. And there’s the other idea that this might be from a shock wave from the missile itself, which I cannot rule out.

UPDATE: I literally woke up this morning realizing it may be a combination of both ideas: if the expanding fuel compresses the atmosphere as it expands, it might create the ring of light as the air gets excited. That would also explain all the characteristics we see. I’m hoping to hear from some physicists who can do the math

Pretty good detective work by all those people contributing on the Asterisk boards and Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait. Awesome video!

(Via Discover Magazine