Some said it was a UFO. Others thought it was caused by a meteor shower. Instead, the mysterious beam of light that streaked across the California sky last night turned out to be a Trident missile test-fired by the Navy — at least if you believe the official explanation.
The light, which observers variously described as fading from bright red to white, blue, or green, appeared at around 6pm local time in California and was visible from as inland as Nevada. Local law enforcement agencies were bombarded with calls from people reporting everything from comets to a nuclear bomb, the San Diego Tribune reported.
Facebook and Twitter buzzed with speculation about the cause of the light, with some observers suggesting it was connected to the South Taurid meteor shower that peaked earlier in the week. Others were convinced it was a UFO sighting.
The sheriff's office in Orange County, California attempted to quell the uproar on Twitter by saying the light was "a naval test fire off the coast," but offered no further details, leading to some skeptical replies.
"Don't cover for them. What did they promise you?" one user responded.
"No, it's obviously a UFO!!! It conclusively proves the lizard overlords are in fact ruling the planet," added another.
Alas, according to the San Diego Tribune, a Navy spokesman confirmed that it was a scheduled test of an unarmed Trident II (D5) missile fired by the Kentucky, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. The missile was reportedly fired in the Pacific Missile Range Facility near Los Angeles as part of the Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, which is described as having the mission of "developing and deploying our nation's seaborne strategic weapons systems."
Commander Ryan Perry with the Navy's Third Fleet reportedly said the launch was part of a "scheduled, on-going system evaluation test," which are conducted on a "frequent, recurring basis."
Reuters reported that the military has activated airspace over the Pacific Ocean near the Los Angeles airport until Thursday, forcing planes to change their normal flight patterns at the country's second-busiest airport.
So why didn't the Navy warn the public that it was going to launch a missile near one of the most densely-populated stretches of coastline in the United States? According to Perry, information about the tests is kept classified prior to launch — a fact that's unlikely to convince true-believers that they didn't actually spot aliens on Saturday night.
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Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included an embedded tweet with video that was described as showing the light over California on Saturday. It was actually footage from a previous NASA rocket launch near the Miami airport and has since been removed.