Mysterious Missile Launch Off Calif. Coast Sparks Investigation

Few details are surfacing about the mysterious missile launchseen Monday night (Nov. 8) from a point just off the southern coast ofCalifornia, with aerospace and defense officials trying to find out exactly wholaunched it and why.

"We're looking into it," Ian Gregor, a spokesmanfor the Federal Aviation Administration, told

CBS affiliate KCBS caughtthe launch on camera and reported that military officials were"tight-lipped over the nature of the projectile."

In the video, a long plume of exhaust can be seen as themissile rockets into the evening sky. The launch occurred about 35 miles out atsea, west of Los Angeles and north of Catalina Island.

Gregor said, "We did not approve any commercial space launchesin that area for Monday, and any additional information should come from NORAD.That's pretty much all I can say right now."

A spokesman with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency in an e-mail that the incident was "not an MDA test orlaunch." [MostDestructive Space Weapons Concepts]

A Navy spokesperson told station KFMB that no Navy activityhad been reported in the area Monday evening. NORAD ? the North AmericanAerospace Defense Command ? is a joint U.S.-Canadian organization charged withproviding aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for NorthAmerica. NORADis working in conjunction with U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) toinvestigate last night's launch.

The mission of USNORTHCOM is to provide military command andcontrol of homeland defense efforts and support local, state, and federalauthorities. It was established in October 2002.

NORAD provided with the following statement: "NORADand USNORTHCOM are aware of the unexplained contrail reported off the coast ofSouthern California yesterday evening. At this time, we are unable to providespecific details, but we are working to determine the exact nature of thisevent. We can confirm that there is no threat to our nation, and from allindications this was not a launch by a foreign military. We will provide moreinformation as it becomes available."

The U.S. military does, onoccasion, conduct missiletest launches and other weapons tests over the Pacific Ocean that arepublicly announced.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. MissileDefense Agency conducted a drill with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ina joint test of ballistic missile defense intercept capabilities. Photos andvideos of that launch, as well as of several others conducted during the lastfew months, were released via the Missile Defense Agency's website.

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.