I work as a weather observer at local Navy airports, so I had some inside information on an offshore missile launch this morning. It was scheduled for 5:30 a.m. from San Nicolas Island or thereabouts, so I placed myself on a hillside above Malibu with a great view to the south, towards the island. San Nicolas Island is about 70 miles distant, along the Pacific Missile Range. I had two cameras set up on tripods, a wide angle and a long lens. It was nice and dark with just a hint of dawn at 5:30 a.m., and I was hoping that the launch would occur then — the darker the better. Ten, twenty minutes later, and still no missile, and it was getting annoyingly brighter. I saw planes taking off from LAX towards my southeast that were headed out over the ocean, and was wondering if the missile test had been postponed. You can’t just toss a missile or rocket up into the air if jetliners are nearby!
At 6 a.m. exactly — there it was — right where my cameras were pointing! The missile was not exceptionally bright, and kind of looked like the planet Jupiter in color and magnitude as it rose steadily skyward. It did not move really fast from my perspective, and it maintained the same look for 20 or 30 seconds. Then it seemed to disappear for a while, maybe 20 seconds or so, before it reappeared at a much higher level — maybe 25 degrees up from the horizon. I shot a few images with the long lens set at 80mm, and at exposure times of 6 to 10 seconds. There was still a bright “nucleus” glowing, but it was getting dimmer. A serpentine trail of vapor was left behind. The first image below is with the 21mm wide angle lens, uncropped.
And those below are all at 80mm, some cropped a bit, from 6:03 a.m. to 6:06 a.m., according to the camera timestamp. The show was over in just 3 or 4 minutes! These are in a chronological sequence.
…and a couple of other shots from this morning: