"You know what's a creepy phrase?" asks Brian Heater at Gearlog. "Mystery Missile." And yet, the U.S. military and civil aviation authorities have "a puzzling lack of answers" for video from a local news helicopter appearing to show a large missile being launched just 35 miles off the coast of Los Angeles on Monday evening. (Watch video below.) Officials have said it is not a U.S. missile, authorized commercial rocket, or national security threat. But without an official explanation, speculation is rampant. Here are six theories:
1. America test-launched an ICBM to warn Asia
With President Obama visiting Asia, the U.S. military probably took the occasion to flex its military capabilities for China, speculates Robert Ellsworth, a former Deputy Secretary of Defense and NATO ambassador. "It could be a test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine," he told KCBS News, probably "to demonstrate, mainly to Asia, that we can do that." It could also be an anti-ICBM missile, says Doug Richardson, editor of Jane's Missiles and Rockets, but it's clearly a "solid propellant missile."
2. An Asian power launched a missile to warn the U.S.
"Relations with China have been souring," says Allahpundit in Hot Air, but that just makes it all the more likely that this was a provocative show of force by China, to warn Obama "while he's in their backyard shoring up alliances that China’s navy is stronger than thought." It almost doesn't matter if it was China, or North Korean, or another group, says Raymond Pritchett at Information Dissemination. "When someone makes an unannounced launch of what looks to be a ballistic missile 35 miles from the nations second largest city (at sea in international waters)," the Pentagon and NORAD's "complete lack of information represents a credible threat to national security" in itself.
3. It was just an airplane's contrails
An unidentified Pentagon official's assurance that, "the best we can tell, it was probably caused by an aircraft," may not be all that reassuring, but "several leading defense analysts" agree — it was the condensation trail from a commercial jet, not a missile, says Noah Shachtman at Wired. It wouldn't be the first time an airplane's exhaust, viewed from a certain angle, was confused for a missile launch, and it would explain why America's missile-warning system didn't light up like a Christmas tree. "The grand technological apparatus of the U.S. military may be unwieldy," agrees John Herrman in SmartPlanet, "but not to this extent."
4. Ooops! It was an accident
A plume that size "can't belong to anyone but the military," says Teal Group aerospace expert Marco Caceres. And since the massive contrail was spotted near missile-testing military bases, the most likely explanation is that it was a mistake, such as a military defense exercise triggered by accident. Of course, not all accidents are created equal, says Dan Amira in New York. Maybe the military "launched the missile by accident, it landed harmlessly in the ocean, and now they're just too embarrassed to fess up," or maybe it "decimated a small, sparsely inhabited island."
5. America launched a spy satellite
This could be a "fat finger error on the part of someone in a missile station somewhere," says Joe Weisenthal in Business Insider, but "the best theory we've heard yet" is Marc Ambinder's, that it was the "covert" launch of a U.S. spy satellite. "When launching spy satellites," where secrecy is key, tweets Ambinder, "post-launch cover story can be weak."
6. It was a UFO, naturally
Several people have been "keen to announce it as an alien UFO," says Andy Bloxham in The Daily Telegraph. Prominent among them, says Jack Stuef in Wonkette, is new YouTube sensation Colleen Thomas, who explains that the Pleiadeans shot down the Iran-bound missile from the U.S., or maybe the U.N.-infiltrating, lizard-like Reptilians. Chuckle away, says Saul Relative in Associated Content, but if nobody is taking "credit — or blame" — for the baffling "mystery missile," isn't it "technically an unidentified flying object"? See the video below:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Syrian women know how to defeat ISIS
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Will Kobani be ISIS's Waterloo?
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- The one thing the New Atheists get right about religion
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How 1,000-year lifespans could remake the economy
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
- The stories behind 22 classic album covers
Subscribe to the Week