Video: Missile test creates cloud-like contrail

  1. Closed captioning of: Missile test creates cloud-like contrail

    >>> a strange and beautiful sight this morning. people in mexico, nevada, colorado even, saw this, turns out it was a missile fired in a test to shoot down another missile. and it all left a beautiful kind of swirling trail in the morning sky.

By
updated 9/13/2012 7:27:27 PM ET 2012-09-13T23:27:27

People across the Southwest got an early-morning show in the sky Thursday, courtesy of a trio of unarmed missiles fired from New Mexico, one of which left a brilliant contrail that changed colors as it was illuminated by the rising sun.

The twisting cloudlike formation was visible in southern Colorado, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas just before sunrise, and led to hundreds of calls and emails to area TV stations.

Law enforcement agencies in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado received some reports of a crash, but those were quickly discounted. A sheriff's deputy in northern New Mexico who saw one of the missiles leaving behind a contrail as it lifted into the pre-dawn sky said he spotted what appeared to be an explosion and a part falling off the craft.

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"When I saw it, it surprised the heck out of me, and I thought, 'Wow, that's not something you see every day,'" said San Juan County deputy J.J. Roberts. "So I pulled over, pulled out my iPhone and started taking some pictures and video."

The "explosion" was a normal separation of the first and second stages of the unarmed Juno ballistic missile that was fired at 6:30 a.m. MT from Fort Wingate near Gallup, N.M., said Drew Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range. The expended first stage landed in a designated area of U.S. Forest Service land.

The Juno missile was then targeted by advanced versions of the Patriot missile fired from White Sands, about 350 miles (560 kilometers) away, as part of a test. Two of the missiles were fired and hit the incoming Juno missile, said Dan O'Boyle, a spokesman for the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, which was in charge of the Patriots used in the test.

The Patriot missiles kill incoming targets by direct strike and don't explode.

The rising sun backlit the Juno missile's contrail and provided a spectacular morning sight for early risers across the region.

"It's one of those things it does not happen every time — the weather and light conditions have to be just right, and this was one of those times," Hamilton said. "We even had people calling from (Los Angeles) asking about it. They want to know about it. Apparently this thing really lit up the sky really well."

Roberts said he was driving between Aztec, N.M., and Farmington, N.M, before sunrise when he saw the missile heading into the sky.

"It was pretty obvious. The first thing that came to mind, it was some sort of a missile or a jet or something like that," Roberts said.

Calls began coming in to dispatchers, and two deputies on the other side of San Juan County were dispatched to look for a crash. But Roberts said he quickly waved them off.

"We had gotten reports that there was an explosion or a UFO or missile or whatever, and people thought it was real close so they were concerned there would be debris falling from the sky," Roberts said. "To me, it was obvious when I saw it, it was real high altitude. It wasn't something real close."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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