On Saturday night, thousands of southern Californians saw the same mysterious sight: a speeding light that seemed to morph in shape and color as it crossed the sky. Sightings ranged as far as Mexico, San Francisco, Arizona and Colorado.
People screamed. They took videos. They called authorities. They took to social media to share their photos and seek counsel from experts like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to Demi Lovato (neither has responded thus far.)
On Sunday, the US government responded. The mystery light was a planned Navy Strategic Systems Programs test of an unarmed Trident II (D5) missile. The nuclear deterrent weapon was launched off the southern California coast from the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile submarine.
Missile testing information is classified prior to launch, a military spokesperson told the LA Times.
There was no warning apart from a little-noticed statement from Los Angeles International Airport days before announcing that the airport would temporarily change flight paths over the sea to accommodate “active military airspace.” It’s not clear if the missile launch was the action they referred to.
In these cases, short-term public panic is usually considered an acceptable cost of keeping such tests secret from prying foreign governments, a security analyst told the LA Times.
On Twitter, there are two camps: people only marginally relieved to find out the light was a missile test, and those convinced the missile test story is exactly what the government wants you to believe.