Awesomely weird expanding halo of light seen from Hawaii

By Phil Plait | June 29, 2011 6:00 am

Every now and again something weird and wonderful happens in the sky, and for a few minutes I’m totally perplexed about what it is.

And then there’s something that makes me literally gasp and say "WHAT THE FRAK WAS THAT?"

Yeah. Check out this amazing video:

Holy Haleakala! What was that?

The footage is from a webcam mounted outside the CFHT astronomical observatory in Hawaii (another view of it from a different webcam can be found here; sadly, both webcams are on Mauna Kea, not Haleakala). You see some stars and the horizon, then suddenly an ethereal pale arc pops into view. It rapidly expands into a thin circular shell, then fades away as it fills the view. The whole thing takes a few minutes to expand; you can see the stars moving during the event (some of the pixels on the webcam are very sensitive and make stationary "hot spots" in the field of view).

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…

I first saw this video on Starship Asterisk, the discussion forum for the wildly popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website. The conversation there about this event is going pretty well, and I think this whole thing has been nailed down to a reasonable series of events. First, let’s look at a still frame from the video:

I blurred the image just a bit to reduce some of the noisy background, and what leaps out is that the expanding halo is limb-brightened, like a soap bubble, and fades with time. That strongly points toward something like a sudden impulse of energy and rapid expansion of material, like an explosion of some kind. Note that the ring itself appears to be moving, as if whatever caused it was moving rapidly as well.

It took me a minute after watching the video to remember the bizarre Norway spiral from a couple of years ago, a phenomenal light show caused by an out-of-control rocket booster jetting out fuel in space. I figured this was similar, but what was it?

As an aside, I think we can rule out a lens flare, which needs a bright object to be the source of internal reflections in a camera; besides, it was seen in two different cameras in the same location in the sky. We can also rule out such things as solar events (they don’t create expanding halos like this) or meteors (again, no halos from those).

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.

[Note: see update below; I realized there may be a little bit more to this idea.]

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.]

Man, I love stuff like this! A real mystery, something truly odd. For a moment your imagination runs wild, but then logic and reason kicks in. A little digging and an explanation turns up, several in fact, and more digging reveals more details that appear to fall right into place. Mystery solved!

And it takes away not one whit of the awe and sheer amazement such an event engenders. Oh, how I wish I could see something like this! How beautiful and astonishing it would be to stand under the open sky and witness such a thing. Of course, with such a rare event the odds of seeing it are low, so I suppose I’ll do what I always do: spend as much time outside looking up as I can, maximizing the chances of seeing something.

And in the meantime, I get to see the sky, too. It’s a pretty fair deal.

Video credit: Kanoa Withington/CFHT. Tip o’ the nose cone to Josh Walawender for sending me the link, and thanks also to Kanoa for putting the video up on Vimeo so I could embed it!

Related posts:

Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway
Update on the Norway spiral
Oh, those Falcon UFOs!
Hit or missile


Comments (123)

Links to this Post

  1. Extraño halo visto en Hawái | La mentira está ahí fuera | June 29, 2011
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  1. Carey

    Okay, that makes sense, but I still don’t get why the expanding shell appears to move across the background stars. If the entire shell was moving, wouldn’t there be a bow shock effect on the front side? Yet it stays pretty circular the whole time.

  2. JupiterIsBig

    Carey – it’s all in what is effectively space – there’s not enough atmosphere to slow down the expanding fuel droplets. That’s why things in space look weird – we’re used to seeing everything happening in a “soup” of N2, CO2 and O2 molecules which slow anything down unless it’s got something to push it !

  3. IanS

    in order to have a bow shock it would need to be displacing some other material, as Phil says this event took place above the atmosphere [i]in space[/i] therefore insuffcient material to significantly deform the spherical shape of the discharge. The reason it appears to move is that it is moving, the expelled gases have the same forward momentum outside the rocket as they do inside the rocket, they don’t stop moving just because they have been discharged from the vehicle.

  4. Bob

    Fools! It’s the beginning of the end – you just wait for 2012!

  5. UmTutSut

    Have those webcams (or any other cams) recorded a similar phenomenon from past Minuteman test launches from Vandenburg?

  6. I saw an expanding cloud of rocket fuel about 6 years ago here in VA. It might have been from a Wallops Island launch that went West rather than the usual East. I was setting up my telescope for a solo star party and I saw a glowing cloud where there shouldn’t have been anything. I said to myself “Hello there! What are you?” I thought at first it might have been a cloud lit from below by the lights of Charlottesville, but it didn’t drift like the other clouds in the sky, so it wasn’t an atmospheric phenomenon.

    Cool to see, though.

  7. DeepField

    I don’t have an answer, but a question: Why does the center of the halo move? if it were the result of an explosion or some other kind of instant event, shouldn’t it grow in all directions from that point?

  8. Aubri

    Cool! This is an incredibly rare catch! I mean, how often does a Minuteman third stage ignite? Even the Minuteman-derived Minotaur booster only uses the lower two Minuteman stages, with a Pegasus stack on top.

    @7 DeepField: An object in motion will tend to remain in motion. The fuel tank was moving a $holycrap speed, so when the fuel is released, it expands in a sphere relative to that fuel tank — thus the sphere moves across the sky.

    Also, I’d just like to add…

  9. Guysmiley

    UmTutSut: Not sure, but I bet it entirely depends on where the target and launch site are as to when in the flight the fuel is vented.

  10. Paul

    It’s not just gas, it’s also dust. Solid rocket motors typically have aluminum powder in their propellant, which produces particles of aluminum oxide upon combustion.

  11. Nigel Depledge


    What you haven’t worked out is that this is the debris field from a UFO that they shot down using a Minuteman missile. It even looks exactly the way you would expect a UFO to look like when it blows (haven’t you seen Star Trek VI!?).

    Can’t tell if it was a Vl’hurg or a G’gugvent, though.


  12. rick

    A shuttlecraft went to warp inside our atmosphere. Bad idea. :)

  13. JimmyD

    Liquid rocket fuel does glow when released. I’m not familiar with all the why’s for it though. I think some of the folks at can confirm that if you watch a satellite being placed in Geo orbit with a telescope you can see a glowing outgas from the upper stage right after final separation. The satellite gets placed in it’s spot and the booster is shunted to an adjacent orbit location and the remaining fuel is dumped for safety. This fuel should be the same mix and being closer the Earth would explain the bigger halo. Also, reading the other link that the Sun would have been up in California by then correct? Maybe the rocket did the maneuver in sunlight. A bit like seeing an ISS pass (only looking at the liquid dump in this case) after dark at your house.

  14. The APOD forum is called “Starship Asterisk”. Not Asterix, the Roman era Gaul of cartoon fame.

  15. Chris Peterson (14): Wow, that’s funny, and of course you’re right. I wonder if that’s what my fingers were thinking when I typed that last night? :)

  16. Me

    I find the explanation very plausible but I have to ask the same question as UmTutSut. Many nations have been testing missile and rocket technologies for many many years. Has anyone or any instrument ever made similar observations of this type of phenomenon? You would think the sight should be a little more common even if rare.

  17. Beau

    A missile launch? Please… this is CLEARLY a government cover up that goes to the highest levels. It’s obviously alien technology.

  18. I can understand why fervency in the belief in UFO’s has risen due to these videos. They are strange phenomenon to be sure. Happily there are plenty of other videos of rockets doing weird things. is a video of a trident missile spiraling right after launch, is a video similar to Norway’s, but clearly similar to the trident missile’s spiral at the end, is a video of a Minuteman III from Vandenberg shot in 2002 (Cheers UmTutSut) which clearly shows a halo appearing at about 1:20 and expanding much as this latest missile did. Also, possibly one of the most beautiful launches I have seen.

  19. Me

    Actually, come to think of it there is something very odd to my mind about the footage. Presuming the time base of the footage is constant, the ‘particles’ (if that is indeed what they are) appear to undergo acceleration and deceleration and then acceleration again at least twice. How would that be possible as a result of an explosion in a vacuum?

  20. ASFalcon13

    @JimmyD…interesting thought on the liquid rocket fuel, but not valid in this case. Modern ballistic missiles typically use solid propellants, as they’re easier to store for long periods of time. The Minuteman III is no different, and uses solid propellants for all of its stages.

    That definitely looks like a single, short-duration event. The first thing I thought was that it might be a staging event. However, the third stage thrust termination sounds plausible too. The expanding spherical shell of gas, with the CG following its original velocity vector, is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to see from a short-duration pyrotechnic event in space.

  21. That’s not a missile launch! It’s obviously just a contrail.


  22. Look at 1:20 of of a night time launch. There is some lovely reflections off of the clouds. There was heavy rain in norcal yesterday – I haven’t checked SoCal but it could very well have been the explosive charge from the third stage lighting up the clouds like in the youtube video.

  23. @Catalyst
    Oh that’s amazing! The last video is really beautiful. That makes sense – the trail looks like an expanding sphere in the upper atmosphere because there is no pressure to hold the expanding gasses in place. The missile is travelling faster than the exit velocity of the gasses, so the gasses continue moving forward and expanding in a disk like structure. If there was a short explosive event, then that would produce a similarly expanding, forward moving ring structure, especially if the missile was high enough to be illuminated by the sun.


  24. In addition to the two webcam views, which only show part of the sky, the event was captured on the UH88 allsky camera at Mauna Kea Observatory, as pointed out on the Asterisk yesterday:

    You can see the expanding shell originate behind the dome at the far left at 03:44, and expand across half the sky. It’s a nice perspective on the event.

  25. Robin Byron

    Haven’t thought about it in years but this might explain what I saw one night while in the woods of NC. In 1970-71 I was an instructor for the JFK Center for Special Warfare at Camp McCall, NC, and was monitoring my fledgling commandos when I saw a large expanding ‘bubble’ of light in the southeastern sky. At the time I thought it might be some sort of atmospheric reflection/weirdness in conjunction with a rising moon or maybe even a missile launch from Cape Canaveral, which was about 450 miles from my point in NC.

    I grew up on the CA coast about 240 miles form Vandenberg AFB so I was used to seeing weird (sometimes unsettling) stuff in the night sky.

  26. J23

    So I guess nobody is going to ask the question of why the US military is firing NUCLEAR MISSILES into space? You guys trying to scare China or just start a nuclear war?

  27. Douglas Troy

    It was actually a soda/Mentos experiment gone horribly wrong.

  28. D.G.B.

    Could it be a flukish atmospheric flash reflection/magnification transmission of the Sun that was further East at 3am Hawaii time?

  29. Captn Tommy

    Many moons ago when I was yet a lad in body as in mind. (about 1967) I saw this very thing in the skys above Bridgeport Connecticut. Very spooky and rather wonderful. I called the radio station, (the fount of all knowledge in the days before FOX), who called the Airport tower (it was in the sky after all), and this was what we the Radio and I found out.

    THEY (also known as “NASA”) had launched an upper atmosphere sounding rocket from Wallops Island, VA. into the psudo-atmosphere of 100K feet to study the High altitude winds. Insequence what I saw was:

    1. a circular pinkish red cicular cloud at 45degrees above the horizon.
    2. that expanded into a purplish ring (much like your photo)
    3. it was dispersing and fading (because the sun was setting at the 100K ft level).
    4. and finally faded, still in an expanding ring.

    Come to think of it the color change was also due to the setting sun (pink to purple clouds at sunset).

    It was the neatest (a terminalogy of the era, look it up) I had ever seen. and lasted about a half hour.

    Betcha that might have been what you are seening.

    Captn Tommy, Thanks for the memory bump

  30. Captn Tommy

    Does anyone remember “Silent Running” and the distruction of the Bio-domes? Best nuke blast in space of any movie.

  31. Tom5z

    @Me says “…You would think the sight should be a little more common even if rare.”

    There are thousands of phenomena out there that are common or easily explained by the few people who care to notice. The rest of the population doesn’t notice until the phenomenon is spectacularly unique, then we have wild stories in the news media.

    Consider lenticular clouds, military exercises using flares at night, etc….

  32. Chris Currie

    My only problem with the conclusion is that the center of the sphere of light moves. If it was the last of the fuel blowing out, then there should be a fixed point from which the shell of light expands.

    What I see instead is a sphere of light that expands, but aslo moves across the sky.

  33. Kalle

    Which stars do you think are “Cassiopeia”?
    I first too thought that the 4 stars in the lower right half are from Cassiopeia, but a friend in another blog made a comparison of the first and the last frame of this short video sequence and it can clearly be seen that the 2 middle “stars” are actually moving. Maybe some airplanes or something else, but definitely not stars.


  34. Jim Atkins

    Just saw this (been out of contact for a few days)- that had to be gas, not droplets of fuel. All three stages of a Minuteman are solid propellant. All modern ICBMs, land and sub-launched, have to have stable, storable fuels so they can sit in silos for a few years and launch on a few minutes notice. There haven’t been any liquid fueled missiles in the inventory for almost 30 years, since the Titan II force was deactivated because of a fuel leak and explosion in Arkansas, I believe.

  35. Thomas

    I saw one of those over Big Sur one night in the early ’70s. I figured it had to be a rocket disposing of unused fuel. It didn’t move as much as expanded from a point. Oh, and it lasted a lot longer and expanded slower than that one.

  36. Mark Hansen

    Chris @ 32, Phil explains the motion of the sphere in his description. The sphere moves because the source of the expanding gas/vapour is in motion.

    This is what annoys me with sci-fi movies that have exploding spaceships that stop dead when they explode. Did the pilot hit the brakes when he saw his imminent doom? As an example, I give you the escape from the Death Star by the Mill. Falcon. As the TIE fighters zoom in, they get picked off one by one. Each time the doomed fighter stops dead when hit and the explosion expands from a stationary point. What should happen is that the debris cloud should move at almost the same velocity in the same direction it was travelling. Yet later in the movie, the rebel ships that attack the Death Star continue moving after being hit exactly as they should. Maybe it’s just the Imperial “We don’t need no steenkin’ laws of physics” attitude.

  37. Having seen several Minuteman and Ttitan night launches from Vandenburg AFB, this is entirely consistent with booster separation in space.

  38. QuietDesperation

    So I guess nobody is going to ask the question of why the US military is firing NUCLEAR MISSILES into space?

    There’s no such thing as a nuclear missile. There are missiles that can accept a nuclear payload. These missiles can also accept other more interesting payloads. Hint: we don’t fire nuclear tipped missiles. There a whole host of applications from secret payloads to missile intercept tests.

    You would think the sight should be a little more common even if rare.

    If you lived in Southern California, you’d have seen a lot of these. However, while missile and rockets may be relatively common, not many are shot to the altitudes required for these sort of displays.

    The best I saw was in the 1980s. I walked out into the yard one evening, and noticed a rocket headed up out of Vandenburg. Simple exhaust contrail for a bit, and then this vast pink and blue cone of pearlescent light appeared around it for about 10 seconds. Had to have been miles across based on how far the base is from me. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I looked it up the next day, it was said that sometimes happens, and that the exact mechanics of the glowing cone were not fully understood.

    Sometimes the trails persist for a while and get all knotted up due to the differing winds at different altitudes. Years back some leftist radio host was saying it was a missile gone out of control, and that darn military was endangering the People! Someone (*cough*) called in, and actually got on the air to explain the atmospheric layers, but Comrade Che there would not come out from under his ideological rock for even a moment. As I recall, it ended like this:

    Caller who was *totally* not me: You can look all this up. It’s basic atmospheric physics.
    Host: Or maybe you’re just a shill for the military industrial complex. We’re you told to call in?
    Caller: Dude, I’m 15.
    (host cuts off call)

    He was some rock station jock who did commentary between tracks sometimes, so that’s why I even heard it.

  39. OneTwistedHippie

    Ok, it’s from a missile… Has this launch been confirmed by anyone? What was the purpose of the launch? Both models have been around long enough to not really need test flights anymore, correct?

  40. Rick Sternbach

    A lot of folks have commented that the Norway spiral was a rocket out of control, which it might have been. However, it was suggested years ago that one way to counter an anti-missile laser was to spin the missile, minimizing what they call the “dwell time” on the vehicle. I don’t know if current or planned airborne lasers are powerful enough where dwell time isn’t a concern, but it’s interesting to think of what the spiral might have been.

  41. Chas, PE SE

    I wondered too if the reason the cloud glowed was that it was far enough east and high enough to be in sunlight. 0335 Hawaiian local time is 0615 LA time, past sunup.

    Also, the merging of night/ocean/military hardware brought to mind Thomas Hardy:

    “Last night, your great guns, unawares
    Shook all our coffins as we lay
    We thought it was the Judgement Day
    And sat upright….”

  42. Rich

    It’s the moon being reflected off particles in the atmosphere.. gives it that huge look. I’ve seen this when driving through the hills of Valley Forge Park at around dusk in the summer. Just an optical illusion.. nothing to see here. Move along.

  43. Cootiio

    Hmm, what this looked like to me was a passing car’s headlights crating an artifact in the camera’s optics.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat video and occurrence. :-)

    @19. Me :

    Actually, come to think of it there is something very odd to my mind about the footage. Presuming the time base of the footage is constant, the ‘particles’ (if that is indeed what they are) appear to undergo acceleration and deceleration and then acceleration again at least twice. How would that be possible as a result of an explosion in a vacuum? [Emphasis added.]

    I’m not sure but it could be an optical illusion maybe?

    Also it isn’t quite in a vaccuum as such just in very, extremely thin air – the upper layers of our atmosphere. Mesosphere layer? Thermosphere layer? Exosphere layer?

    @ 26. J23 : Who said this missile was nuclear or carrying a nuclear warhead? :roll:

    I could be wrong but I suspect they let the world know this launch was happening in advance and it was probably on a trajectory that clearly showed it was no threat.

  45. concerned mommy

    to Carey, th reason for the stars twinkling is that gravity and forces like that can “pull” the light, it’s just the wave in between us and the stars which alters their appearance, not the stars moving.

    That being said, it could also be the earth moving, to shake the stars. Have you checked the seismograms in the area as to any ground vibrations at that moment? If there were the video could acually be showing a HAARP signature?????

    Haarp was originally patented as a device to look into the ground, and the oceans, for mineral exploration. It stands to reason, that they may try to “look” into the hawaian volcanos???

  46. Ian S

    @19, The technicians who published the movie explained the apparent acceleration/deccelaration of the cloud on the thread over at astericks, basically its an artifact of the timelapse/stop motion technique used to make the video, basically a couple of dropped frames..

    @44 definatly not, it was captured simultaneously by 3 seperate cameras in three seperate locations with three different fields of view.

  47. pion

    I saw a similar, expanding diffusity of light on December 15, 1976. Why do I remember that date? Because it was the first date I had with a girl I really, really liked and it was one hell of a memorable evening, otherwise.

    We went outside on our way to dinner and, as always, I looked up. It was clear. There were stars. It was around 7 PM. Directly overhead, I saw a light. It was round, bright, and expanding appearing to be about a quarter of the size of a full moon. It expanded until it was too diffuse to see. I initially thought it might have been the geigenschein. But, being at the zenith and at that time of night, I didn’t think that position was antisolar. This happened in Western Pennsylvania.

  48. Donovan

    Did Phil end this post wishing for an all out nuclear war so there’d be something interesting in the sky? Cause if he did, all I can say is, Wow!, just Wow. Count me in, Phil. This’ll be awesome.

  49. You mentioned the Norway Spiral, why? One has nothing to do with the other! I think it’s kind of funny how most of you here act like you know what caused this, when actually you have NO IDEA! The one thing you are trying to disprove could in fact be the cause!

  50. Oh great, so now the government is take potshots at passing alien ships?

    Nothing like a little interstellar war to brighten your day! =)

  51. dee

    say by-bye to somebodys sat,,

  52. QuietDesperation

    Both models have been around long enough to not really need test flights anymore, correct?

    They don’t test the missiles. The missiles are a platform for testing various payloads.

    Although now that I consider it, they might do a pure missile test launch if there’s been some revision or upgrade to the design.

  53. Frenchfarmer

    OK. So it’s a Minuteman III.
    Where was it going?
    It’s a nice night let’s just waste several million dollars?
    It is not the bullet with “My” name on it that I fear, but the one with “To whomsoever it may concern” that keeps me awake at night.
    (Anonymous, Northern Ireland in the 1970s)

  54. Lone

    appears to me like a Tesla dome

  55. theCase

    I can provide a bit more about the process of shutting down a solid rocket motor, my experience is with the Poseidon SLBM, Not exactly like a Minuteman, but close.

    The Poseidon was a two stage solid rocket with a maneuverable “Bus” stage on top of it containing the REB’s (warheads). Six “Thrust Termination Ports” were arranged around the top of the second stage. Each TTP was a fiberglass tube about 10 inches in diameter, one end on the top of the second stage perimeter, the other end fared into the side of the missile skin, each TTP was at a 45 degree angle or so.

    When commanded by the flight computer, shaped charges would blow a hole in top of the second stage and the cover on the missile skin. The Bus containing the REB’s would separate at the same time and continue on their merry way. In school we were shown a high speed film made by the rocket mfgr (Thikol? Hercules?) that showed a second stage in a test stand. One minute the rockets going full blast and then boom, the ports blow out, followed by lots of smoke. When it clears the rocket engine is just sitting there with some smoke still rolling out.

    Anyway, that’s’ how they stop a solid stage rocket, AFA making a big spherical cloud in space, I suppose it could.

  56. WInikeneke

    Alo^Ha! I think this is some sort of upper atmosphere, or even surface weapon test. it might also very possibly be a WARNING, test, some kind of nuke, from another country, detonating way out in the Pacific. or, perhaps some supernatural technology from ET ships, as they are around ya know, many of there ships are present, worldwide, and in space, and incoming…

  57. Looks just like that weapon on falling skies series…. don’t it now? BTW don’t most icbm’s take about 7-8 minutes to get to space. Secondly, they BURN the fuel not release it… This could be a detonation in space, like failsafe kill switch. Or it could be a nuke going off.

  58. Marina Stern

    When I was a child in SoCal, I sometimes saw bizarrely bent and twisted noctilucent clouds. When I asked adults what they were, they’d answer only, “Vandenburg.” The best I can figure, knowing what I know now, that they had to do with either contrails or exhaust from rockets sent up from Vandenburg, which were bent and twisted because of winds at different altitudes being in different directions, glowing either through fluorescence or by catching the rays of a sun that was behind the horizon from my perspective, but not from its own.

  59. Eugenio

    It’s a Genki Dama!
    Goku is alive :X

  60. abadidea

    “Nice to see a lack of crackpots proposing ridiculous things like they did in the Norway Spiral thread. … … … oh, never mind.”

  61. Gavin Flower

    I am being asked to get an HTML 5 compliant browser, but I am using Firefox 5.

    Why am I being asked, is Firefox 5 not sufficiently HTML 5 compliant???

  62. Anonymous

    This has already been talked about! Seek the truth it’s right in front of our eyes!!!
    This is obviously Project Blue Beam in effect! Read this and become enlightened!

  63. Anon

    I dont see any resemblance to the other missle launch videos, where’s the contrail? Seems like you conveniently fit in this launch event so you won’t panick yourselves over something truly mysterious. Typical skeptics. Im surprised you didn’t use the old chinese lantern trope

  64. starlene

    is it not odd that we find the launch of deadly missiles into space, natural? Why does know one care to know the purpose? Why aren’t we more interested in the motives of our own government that has been shown in these past decades to be eaten away by corruption? Our government has a pretty sorry track record when it comes to dealing with its people honestly. I can’t understand why more people don’t want to know why we’re launching missiles, even out of curiosity.

  65. Me

    Look at the clock on the bottom, the replay was 60 times faster than real time. Also,the “shock wave” is moving too fast from that distance to be an “explosion”, it can only move at the speed of sound. It isn’t an SRM shutdown, too fast again

    The video is of a rocket plume, where the nozzle is pointing at the viewer. The plume is expanding in the rarefied atmosphere.

  66. Joe

    Well just a thought, and I didn’t read all the responses to see if this was already suggested but, If the rocket got to space above the atmosphere, would the rotation of the earth make the cloud appear to be moving when in fact it is your point of view on the surface of a rotating planet that is moving?

  67. Random Armenian


    If you follow the link Phil posted (, you’ll see it was a routine test and that it was not armed with any warheads. The article also implies that this is also for show that the US still has functional ICBMs. Weapons, like any other hardware gets updated improved (although improving a weapon does not sound nice) and you want to test to make sure it works. Apparently they will launch another a test on July 27.

  68. johnny

    There’s only one problem. The video is supposedly taken over the course of several minutes, yet the visible stars stay in exactly the same place for all of those minutes. Anyone who has a telescope or watches the sky at night will tell you that due to our rotation, those stars would slowly be moving as well and in this 10 minute video they’d be moved at least 1/8th of an inch. I smell hoax.

  69. ND


    1/8’th of an inch?

    Star trailing would also depend on the type of lens used. The wider the sky the lens covers, the shorter the movement of the stars.

    Edit: and the stars do move. You have to pick the stars from the hotspots. For example, find the right most bright red spot in the video. From their find the closest white spot of medium brightness that is in the upper left corner direction. Place a paper on it and play the video. You’ll see it move.

    Or jump from near the start to the video to near the end of the video and back repeatedly. You’ll see some of the spots jump back and forth (blink comparator).

  70. dennis

    Ever see a meteorite coming straight at you? Looks just like this.

  71. Jack

    What ever caused this originated with in the cloud layer or just beneath it. This is a relatively low laying cloud bank that is present in most all of the web cams videos. It is after all a cloud cam. (I am referring to the video from CFHT.) If you notice that the bottom edge of the expanding bubble is anchored in the cloud bank and at no time does it separate.

    This doesn’t appear to be an explosion, at least not of a pyrotec nature as there aren’t any bright flashes.

    This event most likely has nothing to do with the missile launch. At least not in the sense that is being eluded to. The fact is that this web cam isn’t aimed in a direction that would have caught the launch. According to the website the camera is mounted on the catwalk of the observatory the summit of Mauna Kea and is facing eastward over Hilo and that aligns you with the southern most tip of Baja California.. Mexico. That’s over 2000 miles away from Vandenberg. The lights on the far left hand side of the video are from the Hilo airport. So I don’t think that a stage separation is all that valid of an explanation as the web cam wasn’t aimed in a direction to have caught any stage separations.

    To my eye this, what ever it is, is a much more localized event and not some far off edge of space anomie. I would say it definitely originates in the clouds just off shore and is certainly in our atmosphere.

    Oh this to Mark Hanson. You should really check out a fire works show on the forth and come back and tell us how many of the fire works continue moving after they explode. 0. Their momentum is over come by the explosion when their mass is obliterated. Their isn’t any thing left to continue moving. Besides this most likely wasn’t an explosion.

    This from the Vandenberg website:

    6/22/2011 – VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — A scheduled unarmed operational test Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launch occurred at 6:35 a.m. June 22 from Launch Facility-10 here.

    Inclement downrange weather and an interruption in communication with the Airborne Launch Control System led to unprogrammed holds in the countdown. Furthermore, boats detected at different times in the hazard area resulted in additional unprogrammed holds. Still, those issues were overcome allowing for a safe launch within the established window.

    “We train constantly working through scenarios such as those we faced real-time this morning,” said Col. Keith Balts, 30th Space Wing vice commander and launch decision authority. “Without a doubt, Team Vandenberg performed brilliantly in ensuring safe range operations and a successful launch.”

    The missile’s single reentry test vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to a pre-determined target near the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. ICBM analysts, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, will use the data collected to ensure the readiness and capability of the ICBM fleet.

    “The launch process requires tremendous teamwork and involves months of preparation,” said Col. David Bliesner, 576th Flight Test Squadron commander. “The data gained from these launches allows us to maintain a high readiness capability and ensures operational effectiveness of the most powerful weapons in the nation’s arsenal.”

    The launch was a combined effort of the 576th FLTS here; 91st Missile Wing, Minot AFB, N.D.; 625th Strategic Operations Squadron, Offutt AFB, Neb.; and the 30th Space Wing here.


    Months of preparation? Really? I thought this was a “Minuteman”. They are suppose to be ready to deploy with only a minutes notice. There is another scheduled launch for July 27.

    This was the target.

  72. Dave

    I saw something like that in Florida back about 1970. It looked like a tiny sparking pinwheel in the center and an ever expanding luminescent cloud coming from it. The cloud expanded and dimmed and eventually covered the sky from where I was. By then it was so dim as to be undetectable. The next day there was an article in the local paper, they said it was a barium cloud from an anti-missile experiment conducted from Cape Canaveral.

  73. Mark Hansen

    Jack, I didn’t suggest that this was an explosion. If you had taken the trouble to read what I wrote, you would have noticed that my comment referred to the way spaceships are destroyed in movies. Spaceships which have a lot more mass than your average firework.
    (For anyone else that might be reading; I know, I know, it’s only a movie.)

    Also, your beef with Vandenburgs explanation, in particular the “months of preparation”. Had you considered that it might be, at the very least, polite to let other countries as well as flight controllers, et al, know why and where a missile is being launched, especially if you’re not actually engaged in a nuclear war?

  74. Dragon

    I recall in the early 1970’s in Miami seeing such a display as a series of expanding spheres and then a bright light and one very much bigger and faster growing sphere. I heard later it was a wayward test rocket from the Cape, but at the time it was happening that seemed to be only one of several possibilities, and did not stick around to watch but headed under cover.

    The few seconds I did watch are quite fused in my brain.

  75. don cheech

    I guess the usual weatherbaloon,swamp gas,chinese lantern explanation couldnt be used here!

  76. racedad68

    The reason for ‘operational test’ launches is to ensure these missiles, which spend decades sitting in silos, will still work. Periodically, the USAF picks one out ‘at random’, replaces the warhead with instrumentation, moves it to Vandenburg, and sets up a whole array of tracking equipment to monitor the entire flight from start to finish. They also set up as many ‘extra credit’ experiments as possible for those entities who are busy working on ways to detect and intercept ICBMs. That’s what ‘months of preparation’ means. It’s a big deal and it’s not cheap, so they try to learn as much as possible from each test.

    The fact that the halo is so very round pretty much proves that the source was in space; if it were still in the atmosphere (say, 20 miles up) there would be vertical asymmetry due to the atmospheric density gradient over several miles’ change in altitude across the halo.

  77. S. Anthony

    EM Railgun testing?

  78. Jeremy

    I saw something like that in 1971 from haiku, Maui. The news report was a rocket from Barking Sands Kauai and it contained barium salts. It was send up after sunset and made a green spot that expanded to about the size of a base ball at arms length and disappeared in about 15 min. A second one was sent a few minutes later. The sky was still too bright to see stars. Just another anecdote. Thanks Phil. Aloha, Jeremy Storm

  79. ElijahsFury

    Its just one of earths giant fart bubbles

  80. Virgil

    Wow! I am sure glad it was not a trans-dimensional portal! Think of how much money and time would be spent trying to track down “illegal aliens”; congress and the President would not get anything else done this year!

    Oh, wait…would that really change anything?


  81. sally

    Maybe you educated peeps can shed some light on what I saw down in the Gulf of Tonkin, South East Asia, not long ago. ( I saw this phenomena twice, actually ). It was a clear blue sky, then I saw a super giant, perfectly round, boiling cloud of ash-grey soot. It was waaay up high, it was stable. It did not shift or move. It was obviously obvious. It must have been HUGE because I saw it “internally boiling” in great detail. It was perfectly round, and very very ugly. After all, the sky was perfectly blue. It appeared in its boiling formt without any growth. I did not see it grow in the sky and it never expanded in size. It was like a perfectly round, huge, boiling ball of soot-ash. It boiled away for about eleven minutes then the boiling cloud began to be broken up by, I suppose, the high altitude winds. When I asked the natives they said it was just a cloud. But this cloud was boiling, perfectly static, and never grew in size, and it was also very high up and super huge. In my opinion, it must have been a high altitude nuclear detonation…It was beautiful, but so, so very ugly…

  82. Chris Crawford

    There are some problems with this video. To see what I mean, grab the first frame and the last frame, then superimpose them in a photo imaging program such as Photoshop, Pixelmator, or Acorn. This is important: use “Difference” blending, then carefully adjust the position of the upper frame so that the bad pixels cancel out. You’re left with an image of true stars, but they have moved due to terrestrial rotation. So far, so good.

    Let’s now identify the stars in the image. The five stars in the upper center are, from top down, beta, alpha, gamma, delta, and epsilon Cas. Alp Per is at ~(346,210). Gamma And is at ~(412,115), beta And at ~(455,30), Algol at ~(416,203). Bet Tri is at ~(469,124). Hamal is at ~(553,125), and beta Ari is at ~(576,101). There are some other stars in the field, but I’ll leave this group as definitive.

    But now examine the pairs of stars closely. They should all lie on concentric arcs, with more northerly stars being closer together in proportion to their distance to the North Celestial Pole. Cassiopeia’s stars in the upper center align properly. But Perseus’s star do NOT align with the arcs of Cassiopeia’s stars. Beta And does line up nicely, but gamma And does not. Neither does Hamal.

    It gets worse: if you use Cassiopeia as a guide to set scale and position, Polaris should be at ~(75,100), but there’s nothing there. There is something at (5,35), possibly eps UMi, but why would it show up so strongly while alp UMi is invisible? Yes, I know all about differential color response, but judging from the luminances of the five Cas stars, it doesn’t seem THAT far off. And where is gam Cep? I do see a blue splotch at ~(120,36), but that doesn’t look like a star.

    There are a lot of problems with this image. I’ll set up a more detailed composite of all the frames to get a clearer image; you can’t build much of a case on single frames. But so far, this image raises all my “that don’t add up” hackles.

    One other thing: the bubble, at its largest, has an angular extent of nearly 90º, at an altitude of 34º. If the object is at an altitude of, oh, 500 km, then its range is nearly 1000 km, putting its linear diameter at roughly 1500 km, and its expansion velocity at about 5 km/sec.

  83. Jay

    You mean you dont think we shot down a UFO?

  84. Mike Johns

    Hawaii is blessed!!!

    Many people don’t realize that there’s a miraculous Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary in Hawaii, maybe that has something to do with it?

    Or maybe not….. Who knows anything anymore, really??

  85. adam

    so it is a Minuteman III, mystery solved. This just brings up another mystery, why is a nuclear missile being fired over Hawaii?

  86. portia

    boys and their toys…

  87. Chiharu

    I wonder if they practice to shoot Elenin?

  88. JupiterIsBig

    According to my globe, Hawaii is close to the great circle between California and the Marshall Islands … looking east from Hawaii will likely catch a view if the missile leaves something to see in space.
    Must go … someone else is wrong on the internet. {sheesh}

  89. Tom

    FYI, looks like another Vandenberg launch coming up:

    2011 July 4 (Monday) 17:43 PDT

    As of 2011 July 4

    Date (PST/PDT) Vehicle Pad/Silo
    ———- —————– ————- ——–

    JUL 27 To be announced Minuteman III —
    Vehicle will probably send one or more unarmed warheads on a ballistic
    trajectory to an impact area in the Central Pacific. The Air Force will
    announce details about the launch a few days in advance.

  90. Rambo

    Couldn’t it just be optics flare from bright object passing above? Just thinking…

  91. H J Doyen

    I was a design engineer on the Minuteman ICBM when the thrust termination ports were designed. We found from the radar at Kwajalein that the thrust termination ports formed a star pattern that the Russians could use to determine the warheads. Project “WASTE KING” made the position of the thrust termination ports (aluminum) random by the delayed explosion of a shaped charge on each port.

    The missiles in the silos have a shelf life. When the end of the effective shelf life is over the missiles are removed, disassembled, transported to Vandenberg and reassembled to train assembly and maintenance crews. The firing of the re-assembled missile from Vandenberg is used to train the silo crews and check safety.

  92. Fat Joe

    It has been suggested that it could be HAARP – weather control weaponry technology that does exist around the world, and has been accused in contributing to earthquakes, hurricanes, etc (Haiti, Japan, etc.)

  93. HawaiiNapupu

    Bush administration funded mini-nukes and micro-nukes are being tested for aerosol seeding via MIRVed-ICBM delivery into the troposphere/stratosphere. Careful computer
    coordinated targetting of multiple such ICBMs into appropriate zones of the atmosphere
    produces weather changes of varying kinds and degrees. The resulting shift of precipitation patterns makes for a formidable weather weapon. Plans for superficial detonations in the
    near surface of the ocean depths are planned but not yet tested.

  94. Korsan

    yeahh this is the f a r t of Hercules !!!
    It looks like a blast an Explosion or radiation but there is a mathematical cymmetry of expansion and the question is it a Circle or Sphere cause we have only 2 dimensions of the video one angle view maybe it is a 3 dimensional figure which is give us a Sphere a base cone or cylinder !? they are saying it’s a test missile…. yeahhhhhhh I got it ! The A- S -S of Hercules is blowing wind also !!!

  95. Hapuna

    A missile may coincide with this phenomenon, but I do not think that is what this is.
    I think it was a HAARP experiment coinciding with the launch. The HAARP shot would
    alter the ionoshere in such a way. Not knowing the exact direction from the recording viewer I can not be sure. A Minuteman missile would be a perfect test for the HAARP to try to disable or destroy. The site of the US HAARP is Alaska..also to the northwest….more north actually. These HAARP tests are not something that are advertised by the Navy.
    It is all very hush hush. It is a way to combat incoming missiles…they hope.

  96. Aaron

    I saw something similar on 10/25/2011. We were driving north on hwy 101, I was located on a straight stretch between tillamook and garibaldi, Oregon. It was amazing looking. Appeared and vanished very quickly.

  97. it looks to my that the thing is not getting bigger but rather is circular object moving towards camera

  98. Jim

    In the late 1970’s, as I was driving eastbound toward my small hometown in northwestern Pennsylvania about an hour after sunset, I saw what appeared to me to be a large orange moon in the southeastern sky. However, it appeared to be getting bigger. So I pulled over and got out of the car to watch it. It became very large, occupying about a third of the easter sky (located in the southeastern sky) from my perspective. It may have changed color before it faded, but I’m not sure (my memory of it is incomplete). It did not change location. It expanded from a stationary point in the sky and then faded. The phenomenon lasted about five minutes, maybe longer, as I recall. I had never seen anything like it before or since until I saw the above video. However, this phenomenon was a stationary bright orange expanding disk which faded to a ring before it completely disappeared. It exhibited an appearance similar to a drop of bright orange food coloring being dropped into a glass of clear water. The next day, the local evening news anchor said that it was reported to be a weather experiment in the vicinity of Washington DC.

  99. Robert deRussy

    In video at starting about 03:39:46 threw 03:39:48 there is a pinkish light; left of center; top to bottom that appears to be moving up ward with the Plume. At 03:39:47 I Can see it best.
    Does not appear to be pixelated/artifact. Ideas or thoughts anyone ?

  100. marama

    So I saw this. Live real time was wild.. I’d
    love talk about it. I was in waikoloa ..


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