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Mystery in sky over California may be plane as day
In reality, he said, the contrail began on the horizon and ran parallel to the ground.
"It was an unusually clear day," he said. So what looked like a missile launch 35 miles off the coast of Los Angeles was actually the contrail of a jet that stretched 300 miles into the distance, he said.
"At the end of the day, you really have to go with the simplest explanation," he added.
Pike was joined in his opinion by geeks and experts. Web traffic was so intense on one site, ContrailScience.com, that its owner had to send visitors to an overflow site.
ContrailScience pointed to several similar incidents in the past in which jets were mistaken for missiles. One occurred on Dec. 31, 2009, close to the location of Monday's incident over the Channel Islands. On the ArmsControlWonk site, Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said: "There are multiple hypotheses for the contrail seen near Los Angeles. But the most likely one is pretty boring: It's a jet . . . viewed from a weird angle."
Lapan said the Defense Department and other agencies with aviation and space expertise continue to look into the cause of the contrail.
"If any new information comes to light in the coming days," he added, "we will update the press and public."
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.