Look! Up in the sky! It’s a meteor! It’s a comet! It’s a UFO! It’s Alf, coming back to annoy us with more episodes of really bad sitcom television!
Saturday night, the social media world lit up with photos of a missile, its well-illuminated tail traversing the sky like a guy holding a flashlight while backing out of a warehouse at gunpoint. Scores of Valley residents snapped photos as it soared overhead and posted them on Twitter and Facebook.
A Navy official later told news agencies the USS Kentucky, an anti-ballistic submarine, launched the missile near Catalina Island off of the California coast. Shucks. The other possibilities seem so much more entertaining:
That, with the Christmas season approaching, Santa test-drove his new sleigh, built by Volkswagen and spewing higher emissions than it reported to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Modesto Bee
That, as one commenter suggested, it was the Buzz Lightyear (“To infinity, and beyond!”) character from “Toy Story.”
That, just a week removed from Halloween, we experienced a “War of the Worlds” redux. Seriously, Orson Welles couldn’t have fooled anyone with that ruse today. As my co-worker Nan Austin points out, virtually everyone has a cellphone with a camera and would have debunked it immediately, as Saturday night’s event suggested from the flip side. Speculation about what it was – much of it tongue in cheek – ran rampant. Conspiracy theorists claimed we were being misled again.
From the story we posted on modbee.com, comments included:
“Hearing multiple different stories from the media only means we are being lied to. Its all bs. Just a cover up for something we shouldn’t know about.”
“Amazing how it is ALWAYS the military. Just saying.”
“Military test? Fox 40 said it was a meteor shower lol so many different stories.”
“In this day of heightened fear of terrorists it seems irresponsible to fire missiles unannounced at night (when they would be more visible) and scare people. But for those of us that didn’t know it was a missile the possibility of a UFO was pretty exciting. Haha”
Here’s the irony: Before cellphones offered still photo and video capabilities, folks would see a rocket or whatever flying overhead and be afraid to say anything about it because, well, you know ... Been working lots of hours ... Drank a bit more than normal that night ... Never quite made it out of the 1960s. You know ...
Two people might see something hovering, then vanish in a flash. They’d look at each other and one would say to the other, “I didn’t see that flying saucer. Did you?”
“See what?” Then they would get the heck out of wherever they were when they saw whatever it was they agreed they didn’t see.
Others might simply assume Vandenberg Air Force Base launched another rocket, which for most lifelong Californians is, or should be, the default assumption. Even the Martians flying over Area 51 or Roswell, N.M., seeing a missile heading their way probably would figure, “Oh, that must be from Vandenberg.”
With the space race against the Soviets ramping up and the Cold War ongoing, Vandenberg launched its first missile in December 1958 followed by the world’s first polar-orbit satellite about two months later.
The base posts its launch schedule online, with the next one planned – a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Jason 3 scientific satellite (have you ever heard of an unscientific satellite?) into space sometime next month, followed by launches in February and March 2016. Those launches, like last weekend’s, also will send social media into an immediate moment of excitement.
It reflects the impact tech is having on our daily lives. Everything is in real time and requires little or no research or confirmation to distribute.
Just point, shoot, and then do like a Navy submarine or rocket scientists at Vandenberg, and launch.