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The Military Technology

Missile Test Creates Huge Expanding Halo of Light Over Hawaii 93

The Bad Astronomer writes "A Minuteman III missile launch from California early Wednesday morning created a weird, expanding halo of light seen from the CFHT observatory on Hawaii's Mauna Kea. The third stage of the missile has ports that open and dump fuel into the near-vacuum. This cloud expands rapidly as a spherical shell, shock-exciting the air molecules and causing them to glow, creating the bizarre effect."
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Missile Test Creates Huge Expanding Halo of Light Over Hawaii

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:12PM (#43799687)
    I thought they outlawed above ground nuclear testing decades ago. This is a pretty obvious cover up of a small nuke and I doubt this would fool anyone.
    • by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @11:46PM (#43800085)

      You can't cover up an atmospheric nuke, you can hardly even cover up an underground one. people will find out. we're good at spotting the radiation and fallout and unique shockwave if it's underground.

      the rest of the world wouldn't agree to stay quiet about things

    • by artao ( 648799 )
      This was not a nuke. The missle was unarmed. It was a flight and systems test. One thing the article fails to point out is the the fuel in the third stage is hypergolic. It is two parts, monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, which ignite upon contact. SO!! One can only assume that upon a fuel dump, there would be ignition which, it seems to me, would fully and totally explain this expanding cloud of glow.
  • by jarich ( 733129 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:17PM (#43799725) Homepage Journal

    I've seen Stargate. I know this is just another lame government cover up of an alien visitation. Better check on your cows!!

    •     It's ok, they were just jumping a meteor through the Earth... again...

    • by OhANameWhatName ( 2688401 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:33PM (#43799783)

      I know this is just another lame government cover up

      Don't be silly. This was the testing of a 50 year old missile platform causing a previously unseen anomoly thousands of miles from the launch site of said missile.

      • I know this is just another lame government cover up

        Don't be silly. This was the testing of a 50 year old missile platform causing a previously unseen anomoly thousands of miles from the launch site of said missile.

        Yes, but with really intense music!

    • I've seen Stargate. I know this is just another lame government cover up of an alien visitation. Better check on your cows!!

      It is Valence-Time Day for space faring races. Your similar, but mangled, Valentines' day has you lopping off the reproductive parts of plants, our bonding ceremony is at the molecular level, the cow genitals are just party favors.

    • SG1 will save us...

  • by DaveAtFraud ( 460127 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:46PM (#43799831) Homepage Journal

    Any bets that this is the same exercise as the launch we didn't do [slashdot.org] back in April? We wouldn't want to have North Korea have a hissy fit or anything.


    • Yes, that's the one. While it originated at Vandenberg, technically it wasn't launched from Vandenberg. It was launched from a modified L-1011 in mid-flight.

      SpaceX has its first west coast launch scheduled for July 9, launching a Canadian communications and research satellite [wikipedia.org] from Vandenberg. That's been pushed back from April, then June, to its current July 9 date. Word is it may slip again to July 20. Elon Musk has said they're going to try to execute a powered soft landing of the first stage into
      • Doh, mixed up the Minuteman with the Pegasus. My apologies. The Pegasus is the one launched from the L-1011, and there's one scheduled for late June.
      • There was some testing done back in I think the '80s to drop launch a Minuteman from a C5A. This was back when there was the huge debate over what was then called the MX and how to base it so that the Soviets couldn't take it out with a first strike, One idea was to have nuclear armed missiles loaded on airplanes flying around so there was no possibility of a first strike. Kind of an extension of "Looking Glass" to include the weapons, too.


  • by Smerta ( 1855348 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @10:57PM (#43799895)
    North Korea's about to follow. They've got their best Photoshop team on the job right now!
    • by siddesu ( 698447 )
      Sadly, they are just following the example set by the big boys and don't need a stinking Photoshop. I'm only hoping they won't follow that other bad example the big boys set in August of 1945.
  • Why do they need to test a Minuteman III ?

    Its not a new weapon, they have been operational for around over 40 years

    • "Its not a new weapon, they have been operational for around over 40 years."

      Why do soldiers need to fire rifles? They aren't new weapons, they have been operational for decades.

      • Why do soldiers need to fire rifles? They aren't new weapons, they have been operational for decades.

        The rifles might have been around for decades but the soldiers have not; even if they had humans need practice to remain skilled.

        • by Anonymous Coward
    • Re:Test? (Score:5, Informative)

      by NouberNou ( 1105915 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @11:06PM (#43799927)
      You answered your own question. These missiles have been active for 40 years. They need to be tested to make sure they work. They go out to the missile fields and they pick a missile at random, pull it out of the silo, remove the warheads, fly it over to Vandy, install instrumentation and dummy warheads, take the crew from the field it was in and fire it down range, making sure everything works right still.

      This is also one of the very few times that a crew actually gets to launch a live missile, so its an exciting exercise for them as well, so much so that the exercises are called "Glory Trip".

      Anyway, pretty much everyone tests their stockpile of ICBMs and SLBMs to make sure they are working, otherwise deterrence starts to lose some of its credibility.

      Furthermore, and a little dark, but think about how amazing it'd look to be in north central Canada if WW3 breaks out on a clear night and you have hundreds of these missiles going down range... The end of the world would be somewhat pretty.
      • The end of the world would be somewhat pretty.

        ...to the cockroaches and our new ape overlords.

      • I find it a little morbid that this would be considered a "glory" trip, when there really is no glory in wiping out millions of innocent civilians with nuclear weapons.

        • I was thinking the same thing. America is the modern Rome, for a few more years maybe, and if I had had the mod points they would have been yours.

    • by gatkinso ( 15975 )

      What makes you think they were testing the missile? They could be testing ABM radar, satellite launch detection sensors, penetration aids... any number of things.

      Usually however they combine tests whenever possible especially in this age of sequestration.

    • So they can track the performance and reliability of a forty year old weapon system and make statistical projections about the performance and reliability of the fleet as a whole.

    • The MM III is not the test, its the target most likely. Somewhere, where it was headed, was an even bigger "show to see", just not anywhere near any telescopes you might hear reports from. If I'm right you might read something about it on the MDA website.
  • Cue conspiracies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by O('_')O_Bush ( 1162487 ) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @11:15PM (#43799969)
    Cue conspiracy theories about alien technology and/or chemtrails in 3... 2... 1...
  • Its a solid rocket.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      RTFM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGM-30_Minuteman [wikipedia.org] "Minuteman-III introduced in the post-boost stage (“bus”) an additional liquid-fuel propulsion system rocket engine (PSRE) that is used to slightly adjust the trajectory."
      • The bus is something completely different. You need the bus to guide the multiple individual RVs. This is about killing the third stage thrust.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      The key to making a solid fueled ballistic missile is the ability to turn it off. They do that by blowing out vents on the side of motor to vent the exhaust. AKA dumping the fuel.

      • But they're not actually "dumping the fuel". What they're doing is stopping the combustion process by means of an explosive decompression. It's more like stopping a campfire by opening doors into space, rather than venting a tank. The wood pile stays inside, it just stops burning. (And if the solid fuel only continues burning at a reduced rate, it can't generate any thrust anyway because there's little pressure in the chamber, and no de Laval nozzle attached to it anymore to turn it into a supersonic stream
        • I'm sure it doesn't work that way,
          1 solid rocket motor fuel burns in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere, rocket motor fuel has an oxidiser incorporated into the mixture,
            2 pressure on the forward bulkhead from the combustion and no aft bulkhead would still produce thrust due to delta pressure, just not optimum thrust.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            actually it does work that way. The decompression is so fast that it puts out the fuel.

        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          True I was giving the quick explanation of what they mean.

    • Yeah, I caught that as well.

      Third stage, at least, has dump ports. At precise time according to flight plan, charges open vents in side of can, venting combustion gases and this abruptly ends continued boost. (Yah, I know that first stage is called boost phase, so sue me.)

      Guy who thought it was fuel being dumped maybe thinks solid-fuel rockets burn from one end to the other. Obviously he doesn't understand just what solid fuel means. He was certainly too lazy to look it up (that or had a five minute dead

    • The Minuteman III has ports in the third stage that can be blown to vent the motor case, slowing or stopping the burning of the grain, and essentially shutting down[1] the motor. It's this vented gas ("dumped fuel") that produced the halo. When the ports are blown the motor decelerates rapidly, so they use this to their advantage by simultaneously separating the bus, thus ensuring the third stage will be clear as the bus maneuvers to start releasing warheads.

      This used to be a fairly common method of contr

  • I saw one of these (Score:5, Informative)

    by rleamon ( 895852 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @12:09AM (#43800167) Homepage
    In LA in the late 80s. I thought aliens were invading. The sun had set but still illuminated the upper atmosphere, where a strangely large greenish globe of glowing gas gently expanded while a small bright object traveled remarkably slowly through its center. People had stopped and were watching as alertly as I was -- seriously, it was one of those slightly spine-tingling moments when you believe something impossible and possibly very bad might be happening... The next day the newspaper had a short piece about a launch from Vandenberg causing it. Or so they say...
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @02:25AM (#43800661)
      Unlike Cape Canaveral which launches into an equatorial orbit to the east, Vandenberg launches into polar orbits to the south, and tests to the Marshall Islands to the west. That means the vapor trail is in prime position to be backlit by sunlight in the upper atmosphere just after sunset, making for very dramatic sights and photos [google.com] as you describe. If the timing is right, on a clear day it's visible from most of Southern California. A friend of mine has a spectacular photo he took of such a launch from Joshua Tree, which is about 250 miles away.
      • Unlike Cape Canaveral which launches into an equatorial orbit to the east

        Are you sure about that? Unless we're talking about GTO launches, an equatorial orbit is dfficult to reach from Cape Canaveral since you're actually not on the equator.

        • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

          I'm sure he was talking about an orbit with a low inclination in general, not one that was exactly zero. In any case, it does tend to launch to the east. If you wanted to launch from the east coast into a polar orbit it would probably be cheaper to do it at a more northern facility like Wallops Island.

    • In LA in the late 80s. I thought aliens were invading.

      You know, had you actually watched Star Trek VI and the new episodes of Star Wars by the time you saw that, you would have known that an alien explosion would have made a 2D shockwave [wikimedia.org] and not a spherical one. If nothing else, we can at least thank Lucas for fixing this bit of general education.

    • by Molochi ( 555357 )

      Ditto in 1988 (IIRC). From a Florida launch. I was driving north of Atlanta though, so it looked like what could be an airburst over the city or some kind of Tunguska bang. It was definitely an Oh Shit hour and had me checking the radio news channels, which I figured would go down if there was an EMP or at least say something about it.

  • by Mr. Chow ( 2860963 ) on Thursday May 23, 2013 @01:21AM (#43800439)
    The lens flare does not lie!
  • It's chemtrails. It's your government putting mind control chemicals into the atmosphere, and rainbows in your sprinklers [youtube.com].


  • This story being right above "3d printers for peace".
  • Something much weirder [slate.com] was seen over Norway when a Russian launch went wrong.

  • ...but this was not worth a Slashdot story.

  • The following is from Ted Molczan, an expert on satellites and launches and a major contributor to the seesat-l list. There's a good change of seeing a fuel dump from a Delta 4 medium if you're in the right place at the right time.

    WGS 5 is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 4 Medium+(5,4) in about 11 hours, on 2013 May 24, between 00:27 and 00:57 UTC.
    http://www.spaceflightnow.com/delta/d362/status.html [spaceflightnow.com]
    I offer the following rough TLE of the orbit after the final burn of the 2nd stage, assumi

  • That his response to this glint of light is 'How cool is that?'.
    seriously, ive had more interesting patterns in the foam of a mcdonalds cappucino
  • They've woken up God now and she's pissed.

What is worth doing is worth the trouble of asking somebody to do.