Many Californians were puzzled – and some panicked – when a mysterious bright light streaked across the Saturday night sky.
It turned out to be an unarmed missile fired from a Navy submarine, creating an illumination that whisked across the state and was visible as far away as Nevada and Arizona.
A Navy spokesman, Cmdr. Ryan Perry, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that the Navy Strategic Systems Programs conducted the missile test at sea Saturday from the USS Kentucky, a ballistic missile vessel.
And local TV station KLTA reported that, “Light seen in OC sky was confirmed through JWA tower to be a Naval test fire off the coast,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said on Twitter, referring to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana.
The test was part of a scheduled, on-going system evaluation test, Perry told the paper.
The event led to a flurry of calls to law enforcement agencies and lit up social media as people posted photos and videos.
According to The Associated Press, the test was conducted in the Pacific Test Range, a vast area northwest of Los Angeles where the Navy periodically test-fires Tomahawk and Standard cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines.
The Union-Tribune reported that police and news media in San Diego were flooded with calls at about 6 p.m. from people reporting everything from a flare to a comet to a nuclear bomb in the Western sky.
Some people saw it fade from bright red to white or blue, the paper said, and thought it traveled from south to north.
According to the Union-Tribune, several witnesses speculated it was part of the annual Taurid meteor shower. However, Brian Keating, an astrophysicist at UC San Diego, told the paper that scenario was impossible.
“The Taurid meteors would be coming from the east — and this light came from the west,” Keating said. “We’d also be more likely to see meteors about midnight, and the flash came near sunset.”