Pentagon: Mystery Contrail Spotted Off Calif. Coast Was No Missile

The spectacular contrail spotted Monday off the coast of LosAngeles may have spurred widespread reports of a mystery missile launch, butPentagon officials now say it was not a missile at all.

CBS affiliate KCBS recorded video of the unusual contrail nearsunset on Nov. 8, and early reports suggestedit was a missile launch from about 35 miles out at sea, west of Los Angelesand north of Catalina Island.

After an initial investigation, the military has quashed the"mystery missile" scenario, with many experts suggesting the contrailwas causedby a run-of-the-mill jet aircraft.

"While there is nothing at this time that leads theDepartment of Defense to believe this is a missile launch, the department andother US government agencies with expertise in aviation and space continue tolook into the condensation trail (contrail) seen and reported off the coast ofsouthern California on Monday evening," DoD spokesman Col. Dave Lapan saidin a written statement. [7 Things That Make Great Space Hoaxes]

"All DoD entities with rocket and missile programsreported no launches, scheduled or inadvertent, during the time period in thearea of the reported contrail," Lapan added. "NORAD and USNORTHCOMconfirmed that it did not monitor any foreign military missile launch off theCalifornia coast yesterday and has determined that there was no threat to theUS homeland."

NORAD ? theNorth American Aerospace Defense Command ? worked in conjunction with U.S.Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) to investigate whether the contrail was indeedfrom a missile launch. NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canadian organization that providesaerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America.

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

"We did not approve any commercial space launches inthat area for Monday, and any additional information should come from NORAD.That's pretty much all I can say right now," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor yesterday (Nov. 9).

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

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency conducted adrill with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in a joint test of ballisticmissile defense intercept capabilities. Photos and videos of that launch, aswell as of several others conducted during the last few months, were releasedvia 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.