Missile Trail Observed Over Southeastern California and Western Arizona

May 24, 2018


Photographer and Spotter: Bill Pursell; Rick Hobbs
Summary Authors: Bill Pursell; Jim Foster

While camping with my good friend Rick near the Hauser Geode Beds not far from Blythe, California, we spotted the opalescent cloud formation shown above. The photo was taken on March 26, 2018 -- the camera is facing toward the northwest. At first, it seemed as though it might be a noctilucent cloud or possibly a nacreous cloud, but upon further investigation, it turns out that it's the trail of a missile launch off the coast of San Diego -- a Trident II missile launched from a submarine. Because it was so high in the Earth's atmosphere, the trail could be viewed well after the Sun had already set at the surface. Diffraction of sunlight by the minute ice crystals that compose this plume results in the lovely coloration. Note that the bright object just below the center of the cloud is Venus.

Photo Details: Camera: Canon EOS 60D; Exposure Time: 0.400s (1/3); Aperture: ƒ/3.5; ISO equivalent: 3200; Focal Length: 28.0mm.