28 August 2011

"Bubble cloud" seen near Beijing

As reported by ITN (Via Nothing To Do With Arbroath) :
One observer at the Beijing Planetarium described what he saw: "At first, it's relatively small and bright, the upper part is something like a semi-circle, a spherical ring of light, it's obviously becoming bigger and bigger then." The object, which appeared in the sky for fifteen minutes, gradually became bigger and thinner.
This looked very familiar to me, so I searched this morning, and finally found links to reports of a similar phenomenon observed in Hawaii earlier this summer.  Here's how it was reported by Discover Magazine:
The footage is from a webcam mounted outside the CFHT astronomical observatory in Hawaii... You see some stars and the horizon, then suddenly an ethereal pale arc pops into view. It rapidly expands into a thin circular shell, then fades away as it fills the view. The whole thing takes a few minutes to expand; you can see the stars moving during the event...

I blurred the image just a bit to reduce some of the noisy background, and what leaps out is that the expanding halo is limb-brightened, like a soap bubble, and fades with time. That strongly points toward something like a sudden impulse of energy and rapid expansion of material, like an explosion of some kind. Note that the ring itself appears to be moving, as if whatever caused it was moving rapidly as well. It took me a minute after watching the video to remember the bizarre Norway spiral from a couple of years ago, a phenomenal light show caused by an out-of-control rocket booster jetting out fuel in space...

Asterisk board member calvin 737 was the first to suggest it might be related to a Minuteman III missile launch around that time. As more people on the forum dug into it, the timing was found to be right. The missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (in California) at 03:35 Hawaii time, just minutes before the halo was seen...

...the missile is above most of the Earth’s atmosphere, essentially in space. So when that gas is suddenly released from the stage expands, it blows away from the missile in a sphere. Not only that, the release is so rapid it would expand like a spherical shell — which would look like a ring from the ground (the same way a soap bubble looks like a ring). And not only that, but the expanding gas would be moving very rapidly relative to the ground since the missile would’ve been moving rapidly at this point in the flight. 
More at the link, including video of the Hawaiian event.  As a side note, I wonder how much missile fuel is ejected above our planet each year, and what cumulative effect is has on the atmosphere (and on us)...  [Addendum:  see David's info in the Comments].


  1. I have personnally witnessed this twice while living in Ca. It is somewhat different when you are in california and the missle launch is from Vandenberg AFB, but it truly is an amazing site, when your that close to it it is quite colorful too.

  2. From:

    "Rocket fuel

    The Soviet and Russian industries produce an extremely toxic substance - non-symmetric methylhydrazine - as a liquid rocket fuel. Like chemical weapons, this substance belongs to the first class of toxicity. During the course of a launch, unspent fuel enters the atmosphere with discarded sections of rocket. Given that there were thousands of launches in the former USSR and Russia, pollution of waste territories in the Archangelsk region, Gorny Altai and Yakutia is now a serious problem, according to Prof. Alexei Yablokov, head of the Interagency Committee on Ecological Security of Russia.

    At present there are about 200,000 tonnes of rocket fuel in store at different facilities in Russia - five times the amount of chemical weapons. Production, storage, transportation and utilization of fuel may have serious ecological effects, as yet barely known to the public. For example, according to an unofficial source, the mysterious death of more than 2 million starfish and thousands of other species in the White Sea in 1990 is linked with an unsuccessful rocket launch from a submarine. The rocket was destroyed and fuel entered the sea with devastating ecological consequences. The official commission that investigated the case immediately after the incident said that the causes of the deaths were 'not known'.
    Prof. Ruben Mnatsakanian is Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Central European University, Budapest."

    U.S. Spy satellite shot down because of fears of terrestrial contamination on re-entry:


  3. It is interesting how vivid the stars are in these photos considering that NOT ONCE did I see a single star while living in Beijing the summer of 2007. The pollution there is out of this world. You can't even see the sun through the smog during the day. Photoshop?


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