Strange lights in the sky

This amazing video was shot at an astronomical observatory in Hawaii. It's real, according to Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait. In fact, there's another camera that captures the same phenomenon from a different angle. So the question becomes, "What the hell is that?" Plait details a possible explanation, worked out by members of the Astronomy Picture of the Day forum.

... 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.

Asterix 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?

[An 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 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.

In his original post, Plait also explains why he thinks this is the true explanation, and why several alternate ideas don't hold up.


  1. Am I the only one who read all that and thought “Wait, wait.. we launched an ICBM a week ago???”

    1. Well, we gotta keep Kim Jong-Il on his toes. Barry likes to send a nuke whizzing over his head every few weeks.

    2. ICBM launches are a regular thing from Vandenberg. They splash down in the Missile Range in the Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific. I remember some years ago the Northern Mariana Islands was happy to have the DoD construct a tracking station on Saipan. That was until they heard that it would be tracking ICBM’s splashing down to the north…..

  2. Having just finished reading “Day of the Triffids”… I am irrationally afraid to watch this video lest I go blind and get myself killed by a walking plant.

  3. Clearly it was a micrometeorite gun from the game Strange Adventures in Infinite Space.

  4. Clearly some 8 year-old child blew one of the biggest soap bubbles on Earth. Bless the child!

  5. Saw something very similar to this once at dusk in Atlanta. While on a walk, I happened to look up and saw a ring of pink radiate explosively outwards just above the horizon, then disappear. A call to the FAA revealed it was a rocket from somewhere in Florida that dispersed barium in the atmosphere as part of a test. It looked exactly like what’s in the video, but was more surreal in person because it happened in an instant, and without a sound.

  6. No one would have believed in the last… erm… early years of the nineteenth… uhm… twenty first century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

  7. Of all the BoingBoingers, Maggie is last one I expected to cover up the actions of the Reptilians.

  8. A “known anomaly?”

    Instances of this phenomenon have been appearing on my anomalies reporting page. Usually they’re described as an “expanding dome of light.” Apparently that’s what they look like from below. I’ve even seen one of them myself, while camping. (Sherlock Holmes notes that, if you see one of these while camping, it means that someone has stolen your tent.)

    Here’s one report…

    A friend and I were driving into Hamilton Square in New Jersey and expirenced something thats kinda hard to explain but i will try my best. It was about 8:00pm on November 14, 2006. We were turning onto Rt. 33 and straight ahead of us we saw a huge blue light in the sky off into the distance. And this was nothing like anything ive ever seen. After a few seconds of silence my friend said quietly “did you just see that?” at that point i knew my eyes werent playing tricks on me. Now i know the first thing someone would say when reading this would be “lightning”. Iv’e seen lightning before and this was very different. It was like a giant dome or aura of bright and deep blue light almost in the shape of a rounded triangle, like an explosion of light. It pulsed for a few seconds the disipated. it was the strangest thing ive seen and ive looked all around in newspapers for reports of it and had no luck. I doubt ill ever know exaclty what it was. – T. Melito

  9. HAARP. I’ve seen it before on local Doppler radar. It’s weird, and I have no idea what they’re doing, but it isn’t natural.

  10. The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus. It’s the only rational explanation.

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