I think the one thing that prevented most people from seeing the supposed “missile” trail as what it was (a jet contrail, almost certainly from flight UPS902 from Hawaii), was the illusion that it looked like it was going straight up. Compare one photo of the 902 trail with a typical Space Shuttle Launch
Of course if you watch a Space Shuttle launchyou’ll see it moves a lot faster than flight 902. An actual missile would be even faster. That alone is proof that it’s not a missile. Plus, the jet contrail is <i>narrower</i> at the base, where a missile contrail would be thicker.
But why does it look like it’s going up? It’s perspective. Like with overhead power lines:
The illusion is revealed to a degree when you look at the trail more from the side. Here’s another trail in the same place from Dec 31st, 2009, but viewed from up the coast in Santa Monica.
Better, but there still an illusion here. The contrail is actually horizontal, from a jet in level flight at 37,000 feet, but it looks like it’s rising steeply towards the south. Again, the reason is perspective. The jet is flying at an angle towards the camera, so it looks like it’s rising up. Just like the power lines above.
The illusion is particularly strong because there is no frame of reference, so you don’t get a sense that one end is closer than the other. With the power lines you see the perspective in the surrounding objects. With the 808 contrail, the contrail has also been spread out by the strong winds at 37,000 feet, so the back of the contrail (which vanishes over the horizon) is wider than the tip, which just serves to confuse the mind even more.
The best way to visualize exactly what is going on here is to look at the track of flight 902 using Google Earth, which you can download for free in a couple of minutes. Go install it now if you’ve not done so already. Then download the track of flight USP902 on 11/08/2010.
Then you can fly around, at look at the track from various places. Like this:
If you want a quick taste, here’s video I made:
It shows the flight track (of both 902 and 808) from Hawaii to the US, then zooms in on Long Beach, and moves around to show the view that matches this composite photo. It’s not so clear in the video, but here in this image you can see the plane, leaving a short contrail, visible as four dark specks just above the cloud in the middle. That shows you the actual track of the plane, which matched the radar trace of 902.
Here’s a close up of the contrail, and the subsequent images of the plane with the contrail in the background. See how much the wind blows the trail south between shots:
The astute observe will note that the contrail does not seem to match the direction of travel. That’s because it’s being blown to the south by strong (50 to 100 mph) winds at 37,000 feet. A plane’s movement through the air is often quite different to its ground track. It’s air speed would be about 500 mph, so if it’s flying at right angles to the wind direction, then its heading would have to be up to 11 degrees off its actual ground track (crabbing), and the contrail would be blown off the ground track by the same amount. This 5-10 degree angle between heading and contrail appears greatly magnified by the perspective.
[Update Feb 27th 2012]
I was prompted to update this, based on the following reader comment:
The video i showed you is an image of a vertical flight… making a cross with a horizontal line.. it is not a perception but OBVIOUS .. and you say the plane is level…. you are obviously crazy and use anything you can to try and persuade myself and any on lookers that it is in fact the other way around.
Here’s a perfectly horizontal grid of lines at 5 mile intervals, at 36,000 feet, above San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge, viewed from space.
Here’s a closer view:
Here’s the view from the ground
Notice that even though all the lines are ALL perfectly horizontal, some look like they are going up in the air, and where they intersect, you get a cross.