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Chip
2002-Sep-20, 05:40 AM
09-19-02 approx. 19:30 hours - I realize this might not be a big deal if you live in England or Africa, but over here in Sacramento, while walking home from our favorite Thai restaurant this evening, we and our neighbors suddenly witnessed a spectacular rocket launch from Vandenberg Air Base many miles south of us.

The bright white "comet-like" rocket moved rapidly across the sky from the Southeast to the Southwest, leaving a fantastic white cloud that distorted rapidly into a weird shape.

I counted what appeared to be two stage separations, with "puffs" of cloud in a 360 degree ray or flash from the star-like head of the rocket. (Naked eye observation.) As it reached about 60 degrees S-SW, it quickly disappeared leaving behind a darker spot in the sky!

A call to a local TV news station verified that it was launched from Vandenberg. (Many people called about it.) (The Vandenberg website didn't list this launch.)

Folks as far away as Arizona and New Mexico have also seen these launches for years, as did I when I lived in Phoenix years ago. It's always a wild sight if you are within view.

Anyone else in the Western USA or Canada see it?

GrapesOfWrath
2002-Sep-20, 09:34 AM
On 2002-09-20 01:40, Chip wrote:
A call to a local TV news station verified that it was launched from Vandenberg. (Many people called about it.) (The Vandenberg website didn't list this launch.)
Here you go (http://www.vandenberg.af.mil/30sw/news/news_releases_02.htm), thank the folks over at sci.astro.amateur and rec.models.rocket (yeah, usenet). It was a Minuteman III.

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<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: GrapesOfWrath on 2002-09-20 05:35 ]</font>

Silas
2002-Sep-20, 02:47 PM
Even all the way down here in San Diego, we can see the high altitude vapor trails. They get all twisted up in the upper atmosphere, and turn into "abstract art." Most impressive near sundown, as they glow in eerie yellows and reds.

Silas

Chip
2002-Sep-20, 05:41 PM
On 2002-09-20 05:34, GrapesOfWrath wrote:
"...thank the folks over at sci.astro.amateur and rec.models.rocket (yeah, usenet). It was a Minuteman III."

Thanks. That's what we saw alright. Next time I'll check with The 30th Space Wing! /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif

Silas, the cloud curled up into various weird knots and smears. Even though the sun had set, it was brightly illuminated, making it even more eerie.

heliopause
2002-Sep-20, 06:10 PM
Spaceweather.com is featuring a nice snapshot of that launch on their site today.

The Bad Astronomer
2002-Sep-20, 08:43 PM
This is funny: I am in Fresno California right now. Last night, I gave my Mon Hoax talk at a community college near Fresno. After the talk, we were in the Q&A part, and someone asked me what kind of object could leave a twisted trail in the sky and then end in a big expanding cloud of light. I said it might be a meteor, why? And he said he just saw this when he stepped outside for a moment during my talk! Turns out he saw the test. A picture of it was in the Fresno Bee this morning. There's no pic on their website though.

Kizarvexis
2002-Sep-22, 12:48 AM
Ah hah. That was what the news was teasing with their "What's this? A UFO?!?" /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_rolleyes.gif

I figured it was something like a launch or a high altitude aricraft event and the news was just trying to get you to stay on channel. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif Your description matches the picture I saw, before I changed the channel. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

Kizarvexis

Peter B
2002-Sep-23, 04:15 AM
If it's the launch I'm thinking of, it even made the news in Australia.

Supposedly locals got into a panic at the sight of the exhaust trail (which looked pretty spectacular on TV).

So was there anything unusual about this launch in particular? Why did it draw so much attention? I assume there are lots of launches from Vandenburg.

Bob
2002-Sep-23, 03:34 PM
On 2002-09-23 00:15, Peter B wrote:
If it's the launch I'm thinking of, it even made the news in Australia.

Supposedly locals got into a panic at the sight of the exhaust trail (which looked pretty spectacular on TV).

So was there anything unusual about this launch in particular? Why did it draw so much attention? I assume there are lots of launches from Vandenburg.


The Air Force tests its strategic missiles by launching from Vandenberg and impacting at Kwajelein atoll. It's also the US launch site of choice for polar orbiting satellites because there is no land for thousands of miles to the south. One test flight on a program I was involved in had a teeny guidance problem, though, and the debris nearly hit a Mexican fishing boat.
Depending on atmospheric conditions, dawn and evening launches from Vandenberg can leave beautiful multicolored tracks visible for long distances.

SpacedOut
2002-Sep-23, 04:39 PM
On 2002-09-23 00:15, Peter B wrote:
So was there anything unusual about this launch in particular? Why did it draw so much attention? I assume there are lots of launches from Vandenburg.

According to this MSNBC article (http://www.msnbc.com/news/781470.asp) evidently most launches take place later at night:



Vandenberg spokeswoman Kelly Gabel said clear conditions were responsible for the spectacular light show.
“We do this two or three times a year, but because the weather was so perfect we decided to launch it early,” Gabel said. As a result, people were still awake to see it, and although the sun had set, sunlight below the horizon glinted off unspent fuel particles and water droplets.

ToSeek
2002-Sep-26, 06:01 PM
APOD has a photo (http://apod.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap020926.html)