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November 10th, 2010
07:35 AM ET

Contrail or Something Else?

Mystery Plume

The picture has captured everyone’s attention but so far no one seems to be able to completely explain it.
Red smoke is seen trailing upwards in the sky off the coast of Southern California, but what is it?
The Pentagon still can't explain it.
Defense experts speculate it’s contrails from an airplane.
But we want to know what you think.
Is it merely an airplane taking off?
Tell us what you think and we’ll read some of your responses today on CNN Newsroom with Kyra Phillips from 9am -11am EST.


Filed under: Kyra Phillips
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Jerry Adams

    Is the United States under attack? It is hard for me to believe that a missal can be fired in the United States and the government act like they don't know what's going on. Trust me, the government knew what was fired of the coast of California. If they government didn't know who fired that rocket/missal, then "Homeland Security" the Army, Navy, Marines, and the Air Force would have conversed on that area with everything they got, because they would have figured that America was under attack from Cuba, Russia, best yet, from the drug cartel from Mexico.

    So in sort, the government knew where the rocket/missal came from and now they have to cover it up by lying to American.

    November 10, 2010 at 7:54 am |
  2. Ken Potter

    I think it was Santa on a test flight of his new sleigh...

    November 10, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  3. lucas

    Ok so if it was just a airplane, why wouldn't the government just say it was. Instead of just not saying anything at all. If it were just a plane they'd say it. The government is lying to us again.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  4. Bob Shick

    I have never seen a contrail like that coming from a plane. Now, i'm not saying it's not possible, but my persoanl opinion is the government knows something. Not so transparent (Government) are they!!!

    November 10, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  5. Wendy

    I've seen the same thing, way up here in Hamilton, Canada. This took me a couple minutes of staring, but, I figured out what I was seeing. This is not Aliens leaving the planet, or something, relax.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  6. Jared

    We would love for this to be something else than an airplane, but I'm sorry people.....it's an airplane over 35,000 feet in the air. Look at the video long enough and you'll see the plane ends up flying over. But CNN nor anyone else shows you the whole clip.Just the clip where the plane is still climbing.

    I'm a major airline pilot and this looks like a jet flying in the upper atmostphere. Close this story.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  7. Patty Urso

    i find it hard to believe that this was a plane trail, in your clip u see a helocopter flying n the unknown trail is goin vertical not harozontal no matter wat the government is saying. Another cover up hummm

    November 10, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  8. Sarah Colangelo

    its not a Contrail its a CHEMTRAIL!!!!!

    November 10, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  9. Sean

    Jet with the sun reflecting off the exhaust.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  10. K Rummel

    That's a condensation trail that was produced from an airplane at cruise altitude. When the atmosphere is especially moisture-laden as well as stable, these ice crystals can linger and spread very slowly.

    I've seen this type of trail hundreds of times.

    Captain K Rummel, UAL

    November 10, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  11. Al S.

    Hi
    I'm no scientist..but, it seems they are missing out on the fact that the "contrail" is feathering out as it passes through different layers of the atmosphere. My untrained eye see's that it is traveling vertically, not horizontally..

    November 10, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  12. Eric Lynch

    Remember flight TWA 800? Welll, sounds like the same sort of "mistery", except this time no planes were hit.
    Bye for now.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  13. Abbass

    I live in Montréal, Canada and a couple of days ago some people spotted UFOs and it was reported here by the police and the press.

    Now usually I am not a UFO kinda guy, but you got to admit something flying out in the day, and the government says they do not know its whereabouts and I believe them because if they were doing any kind of tests like shooting a satelitte from a Navy ship ( which they did last year I think) they would have let us know this.

    So eitheir it is some genius dude who suceeded into shooting a rocket, or may be it is something else...may be a UFO!

    November 10, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  14. Terry

    Its obviously an airplane flying eastbound at sunset. The doc that you had on is 100% right. No missiles, no aliens, no chemicals, just water vapor condensing from an airplane's engines.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  15. Scott

    Kyra, I see these all the time in Chicago as I drive to work in the morning here in Chicago, coming over the lake. The curviture of the earth makes a jet contrail look like it is vertical until it gets closer to you. Normally contrails dissapate faster than this one did, but it is not unusual for them to linger when temperature and wind conditions are right. From what I can tell by the distortion of the contrail, this flight was from south to north and was likely a 747 or similar sized plane. Note the government agencies careful wording, "No faster than normal aircraft are recorded on radar." They don't know what for sure what aircraft it is, but they do know what it wasn't.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  16. Kenneth Perkins

    I concur with the Physicist from the CUNY. Airplane! Airplane! Airplane! We as humans constantly want to believe the unbelievable, but believe none of what your hear, and all of what your eyes see for yourselves.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  17. Patricia

    I reminds me of the pictures of the Challenger disaster back in 1986. Every time I saw this new picture, something kept nagging at the back of my mind and today I finally got it.

    The Challenger had twin trails at the top as it broke up and this picture only has one, but the general shape of the contrail/cloud and the one streaming behind Challenger just before the explosion are close.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  18. Fred King Norris

    Hey now....
    The explanation given by physicist Dr Michio Kaku did not convince me.
    That does not look like an airplane flight horizontally. I have seen many airplane contrails all my life, That isn't.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  19. Sarah Colangelo

    and i didnt see a plane...maybe its a home made UFO..lol..i saw them over Upstate NY before...little silver bullets floating all over the place...the Government is LYING TO US

    November 10, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  20. Realistastic

    FINALLY....thank you for bring someone on air whom these people might actually listen to. I don't have nearly the credentials of Dr. Kaku, but It seemed pretty obvious to me from the first time a saw pic of it, that it was most likely just a plane's contrail, seen from a tricky perspective. Hopefully he will be one of many distinguished and respected intellectuals of our time to come out publicly and try and talk some sense into those who seem to be, not only making a habit out reading more into everything than is warranted, it seems to be becoming almost popular to be one who shirts the outer fringe of skepticism daily. Don't get me wrong, I believe that a healthy amount skepticism is a good thing...but going off half cocked about every little pic or vid you see on the net is not healthy (mentally). The scales of one's perception should always be tipped more towards objectivity than anything else.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  21. mike

    If that was a contrail, it should have been rather easy to point to an airline flight it could have been, time and location of departure etc. If anyone was trying to cover something up that would have more likely been the response.

    Given the temperatures aloft in that location at that time it would seem that a contrail would be a lot smaller and more uniform, if coming from a jet. Also, one distinctive plume (single engine) and one flame point source in the video.

    It probably was a routine military flight of a conventional single engine jet aircraft, and the contrail when viewed on end and through the lens effect typical of near horizon distant cloud features, appears distorted and larger than one would expect.

    Sure does make the tin-foil-hat crinkle though....

    November 10, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  22. Jay from Los Angeles, CA

    Does the government really think that we the citizens of this nation are stupid. I have been to many airports and seen thousands of planes take off, even military planes and this is not a airplane. This looks like a anti ballistic missile or a Patriot missile and you can see videos of these missiles in action on youtube or on the web. Knowing that we got attack by airplanes on 9/11, the government has close records on what airplanes are in there skies. And for some odd reason they can't explain this. Thank you Homeland Sercurity, I feel really safe in my own country.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  23. Wayne Aivazian

    Its a missel launch...look at the blast plume This was a common sight from Vandenberg AFB somebody knows something

    November 10, 2010 at 9:41 am |
  24. Southgate Jo

    I have many thousands of hours as a pilot in command of an aircraft. I am also a big fan of the US Space program NASA. I lived in Florida and I have seen quite a few launches of the shuttle and other assorted missiles.

    My question is ...If that is a con trail, and keeping in mind that the LAX area has a ton of aircraft in flight at the same time, why didn't other aircraft at that altitude leave a contrail that is similar to the one we saw.

    In my view, and I guess I'm still an armature, I'd have to say that it's a vertical launch of a vehicle of some kind. The shear volume and size of the trail lends me to believe that hydrogen peroxide and liquid oxygen are being used here. If I were the government I'd be a little embarrassed by the story 🙂 just admit it guys. The public isn't as dumb as you think we are 🙂

    November 10, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  25. Dan

    Don't you find it kind of ironic this mystery happened while the president was in Indonesia, the world's most populace Muslim nation?
    Maybe it was a "cover up" when he said the US is not at war with Islam, just terrorists. I think our Commander in Chief knows exactly what this incident was.

    November 10, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  26. Joe Cortez, San Francisco, California

    The telltale sign to me that something is amiss is that the Defense Department didn't immediately issue an "air traffic related" explanation - as they so calmly do immediately for most UFO sightings. I worked as an Air Traffic Controller for 15 years and happen to know that when something goes awry, even ATC can give explanations laced in "panic" - more thoughtful explanations being forthcoming. Is it possible that an Earth-bound, possibly "ELE" capable space rock impact has been detected with such extremely short-notice that our relatively limited defense capabilities/technology allow us only to launch an re-callibrated ICBM to intercept the "Incoming" that the DOD/NASA are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best to obliterate? The varying "blow-off" directions of the contrail indictate a more vertical ascent than is possible by any aircraft, since horizontal airflows are not as drastically different in distance as vertical atmospheric/tropopausic/tropospheric layers are. Is our national security really so innept as to not have a viable answer nearly 36 hours later? To disclose such an event would only cause worldwide panic - possibly a more devastating but hopefully unnecessary disaster. Finally, protocal requires ALL world military forces to be consulted/notified prior to ANY missle launch. Remember, TWO space threats passed extremely close to Earth only three weeks ago - one between the planet and the Moon. Does memory recall correcty that THOSE were detected only DAYS before they're "fly-by's?" Hopefully, Merry Christmas to all!

    November 10, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  27. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Was it a bird a plane or Mighty Mouse or was it people testing out a home made rocket ?

    November 10, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  28. Jay from Los Angeles, CA

    This is a missile, even the former Secretary of Defense Robert Ellsworth has stated so. You can see his video on youtube explaining his theory that this missile looks to be from a Submarine.

    November 10, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  29. Gene Wentzel, DC

    As a pilot and flight instructor I can say that any aircraft making that kind of contrail, at that altitude would be on an FAA or international flight plan, using a radar transponder and squawking an ATC squawk code. Even without a transponder it would at least generate on ATC or NORAD radar as a primary target. Also jets do not have a bright flaming exhaust at it stern unless it's a military fighter on afterburner.

    Someone's lying or just not talking.

    Gene Wentzel, DC
    Mt. Holly, NJ

    November 10, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  30. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Just from the flare at the tip you can tell this is a rocket and this may become a common site with home made rocket's the people who did this were clearly breaking the law and are likely not to come forward's .

    November 10, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  31. Tom

    In its 2008 assessment of China's military, the United States Department of Defense estimated that that "up to five" Chinese Type 094 Jin-class ballistic missile submarines would be in service by 2010.
    The Type 094 submarine is capable of carrying 12 of the newest JL-2 ICBMs, with a range of approximately 8,000 km
    The US government has expressed concern over these submarines, saying that the Chinese government has not been transparent enough about the program. A little demonstration maybe?

    November 10, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  32. tp1776

    it looks like a contrail, but why was this the only 'airplane' to leave a contrail? If it was a plane, there are flight plans and clearances from control towers..so no one can pin point a flight plan or clearance at that point of time? I think a combat exercise involving submarines was in progress and someone pressed the wrong button. seriously.

    November 10, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  33. Steve

    Kyra, Folks, Let me be clear after seeing dozens of space shots from our Space program at Cape Canaveral and NASA It was defininately a multi stage verticle launch type rocket of some kind. Most likely from a submarine. Questions that I have are... Was it one of ours? If this was a hush hush type mission of somekind, when does the other shoe drop? WIll we ever know?

    November 10, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  34. nancy bain

    On October 10 in the late afternoon my family was sitting on our patio in Marion,Il. As I looked toward the west I saw a corkscrew rise from the horizon straight upward. I was astonished and got my boniculars to see what it was. I observed what appeared to be a rocket with my boniculars and saw what appeared to be two boosters separate from something. It had a pencil like shape and was black against the sky. We live in St. Augustine, Fl most of the year and see many launchings at Canaveral. It appeared to be a rocket launch. I waited to read or hear about it in the the newspapers or on the CNN but heard nothing. This latest sighting was only a confirmation to me that something was launched probably about 150 miles west of Marion, Il. We see many contrails from St. Louis there and this did not appear to be a contrail.

    November 10, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  35. Darren

    I have seen the same kind of contrail in the western sky at dusk in Gunnison Colorado a few weeks ago. It also appeared to have corkscrew like trail closer to the ground similar to the comment before.

    November 10, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  36. Ken F.

    I believe that this event could be the result of EITHER an aircraft or a missile launch. There are a few things not mentioned here tho. 1: Why are there no other contrails from other aircraft in the area as this airspace is probably very active? 2: Missiles do NOT always go in a straight line because they are equiped with "guidance controls/canards" which make changes/adjustments to the missile's trajectory. 3: A very high missile going relatively straight up with respect to the ground observers might not appear to be accelerating when in fact it is. 4: The bright light however might not be a rocket motor but rather a reflection of the sun off of the shiney bellie of an aircraft.

    November 10, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  37. Don Gaydos

    One of the explanations given regarding the mysterious contrail is that it was a plane that caused it. I always thought that contrails were caused at extreme altitudes. It was also explained that it might have been an optical illusion If that were the case than it means that an aircraft plunged into the ocean. What a bunch of nonsense. Let's face it. It was an accidental missle launch and sounds like another government cover up

    November 10, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  38. JED

    It's Dragon.. I rode it to work this morning

    November 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  39. Earl Swift

    It was probably a USO returning to its mother ship.. [Unidentified Submerged Object]..

    No Biggie..

    The Solstice Approches.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  40. frank

    I might be wrong, but i think i have seen this before. It looks like
    a rocket which is fired from something called HIMARS. Thats
    Hi Mobility Artillary Rocket System used by the Army Marines and others. During my seven years in the Army I was in this particular unit out of Fort Bragg. The "ATACM" missle looks similar to the video.
    Again, I might be wrong but Google it and see. Also there was always rumor the weapons system could be fired off of an aircraft carrier. Reasons for not coming foward? It is still a very quiet weapons system being used in and around Afghanistan. Kinda hush hush if you know what I mean.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  41. Marcus Blyden

    This is clearly not an airplane. Let's just simply get some video footage of an actual airplane headed towards the person video taping it and it will be clear as day. The contrail directly behind an airplane is much more streamlined then broadens out after a couple minutes. The contrail in the video clip in question shows a very broad contrail from the what ever object that's causing the contrail.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  42. Mike Thurchak

    How Sad! We tout ouseleves, to the whole world, we are the best-smartest and most powerful.
    This is the best thing that could have happened. Maybe we will finally get our heads out of our butts and start practicing what we preach.
    Where is the money going for our early warning defense system, it's obvious it's not going to the right places.
    God Save The U.S.A.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  43. Bill

    Maybe San Nicolas with a sled full of toys?

    November 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  44. Marc

    I do not think for one second that this is a Contrail from a Plane. If it was why not just have the FAA tell us what plane it was? The scary part is (and I hope this is not the case) if someon wanted to see if I can fire a rocket or missle off the coast of the US without detection by NORAD, FAA, Etc. they have succeeded. Put an official response out there and get the guessing game over with!

    November 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  45. Mark E

    Just look at the trail and then look up the new rocket called Aurora. Yes they will shoot them off in your face and still lie about it.

    November 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  46. Jennifer

    I have seen the space shuttle launches in person.
    I see contrails everyday in the Chicago area.
    I watched the video.
    This is not a plane.

    November 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  47. Geoffrey Bird

    I don't believe that aircraft produce contrails at low altitudes, in temperate regions, so this is not from a plane just taking off. In addition, I see airplanes flying over Long Island on a daily basis, and you can always see the aircraft in question, slightly ahead of the contrail, and you can usually tell how many engines that particular aircraft has, since the contrails from each individual engine are separated. This one would therefore have to be a single engined jet aircraft, in which case it would most likely be military. So......
    Another issue which concerns me is the fact that if the government cannot explain this particular event, how are we to believe their explanation of what happened to Flight TWA 800, which exploded just off Long Island in July of 1996, when witnesses say that they saw an object, possibly a missile, flying up towards that aircraft?

    November 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  48. System You

    The military and gov't don't have to tell you what this is and they won't. Anyone can see that it's ignited and heading some place. Again, they won't tell you what it is and after enough time of not saying anything...people will go on to something else...as they know they will.
    My guess is that this was on purpose...for what reason is anyone's guess.
    One friend said it was directed at somebody we didn't want there...he's a big UFO supporter and just maybe he is right?

    November 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  49. Michael Armstrong Sr.

    Up up and away its Alvin Green on his way to fight crime faster then a speeding bullet .

    November 10, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  50. Randy Littlejohn

    I'm not an expert, but I did grow up near Vandenberg AFB and have seen many sunset launches. It looks like a missile launch to me.

    November 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  51. T Smith

    I was on this flight and had a window seat. I didn't see anything else in the sky as we started to see California. Funny, I was reading the Black Swan by Taleb – didn't realize it came with real examples.

    November 10, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  52. Aaron Scott

    Usually, the more airplane contrails streak and widen, the more transparent they become, until eventually, they nearly disappear. The contrail in the video has expanded IMMENSELY (especially if you think the trails near the bottom are further away from the camera) and it is still completely opaque! I really don't think an airplane would leave contrails like this.

    November 10, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  53. Ernie Falcon

    After seeing thousands of planes go through the sky that is not a plane. If the Goverment wanted to know what it realy was they have the means to do so. If not God help us all..

    November 10, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  54. Mark Folds

    I live in Florida and have seen numerous shuttle launches from Kennedy Space Center. This is no airplane so dont believe it, it is a coverup. Watch the video closely and notice the fire (bright light on very top) this resembles the solid rocket booster flames. There is something with major propulsion there and it isn't a plane. Did you catch that is was "off" the coast of California? Can you say Sub or Boat or another nearby island (maybe unmarked), makes you think!

    November 11, 2010 at 12:22 am |
  55. Brian C

    I have seen contrails like this from both airplanes and rockets. My question is, Why was there only ONE contrail off the coast of California? Was it the only airplane in the sky?

    November 11, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  56. David

    Definitely St. Nick on trial run.

    November 11, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  57. Greg

    If it's a plane, why don't we see them all the time? There are always planes in the air and there's a sunset every day.

    November 11, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  58. Jeff

    110% positive it's an airliner approaching the camera location, FL 350 or so. Look closely at about the 2:00 mark when the camera focuses you'll see the red and green navigation lights. Hint: missiles don't have nav lights!

    If it was a missile it would be traveling 3x that speed or faster.

    Former US Navy tactical pilot.

    November 12, 2010 at 12:06 am |
  59. don

    First i have to say that i dont know if its a jet, missle or what? My problem is that knowbody seems to know what it is or just aint talking. If it was a missle or a rocket then why havent the other superpowers ( China, Russia comes to mind ) said a word? These counties are generally given notice of such a launch. This is done to keep from having WWIII. Now if this was just a jet, then why doesnt the FAA and NORAD just come out and say it was a jet. I`m sure that they had it on their radar, someone did. There just seems to be to many unanswered questions and there shouldnt be.

    November 12, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  60. John Doe

    This is for sure not an airplane. Without my first hand experience of seeing similar missiles fired in Iraq I would also say it was just an airplane. I'm sure there is nothing to be alarmed about, but I can also guarantee you nothing will be addressed and your government organizations will act dumbfounded until it is forgotten about and swept underneath the rug. It is most likely BSRBM, SRBM, or MRBM. Same thing happened when I seen 10+ fired out of a base on multiple days. No one knows, no ones talking about it, its just like.. ohh okay.. forget about it.. life goes on. The cloud it leaves behind it, looks exactly like a contrail from an airplane, and the sound of it is exactly like a jet engine but extremely loud, within range of hearing it of course. If I had to guess, this was probably a test fire / range from a submarine or ship. I just wish the government could be a little more honest about things, and not have to hide almost everything that they do especially tactically. I agree that some things have to remain hidden, but isn't there a point you can say yes, we were testing something and we cannot disclose the specifics? Or if they did explain, would they be breaking some kind of sanction or regulation while admitting guilt? I don't know but, I just felt the need to share my two cents!

    Also if this is not a missile, please with all the organizations – tell the public something? Too many cooks in the kitchen, can't do even the basic job.

    November 13, 2010 at 5:12 am |
  61. C. Ward

    I think it was a rocket or missle fired from surface or submerged vessel. It is not an air plane or missle from the West Coast.

    It is a warning shot of events to come.

    November 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  62. David Oliver

    This is an airplane. It appears to be flying straight up but in fact it is flying at a near constant altitude and straight at the observer. This is an everyday illusion. It has been explained by others but no one seems to be willing to accept the simple truth.

    November 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  63. N Botten

    I have lived in Southern California for over 50 years and have seen the contrails of many jets and the contrail of missile test from Pt Mugu. Anyone looking at the video of this event can see it was a missile. The speed and wavering of line not an airplane.

    November 20, 2010 at 10:32 pm |