Trails from missile tests puzzle Junction teacher

Sixth-grade science teacher Kevin LaDuke is used to enlightening his students about why things happen in and around our atmosphere, but Thursday morning he saw something that he couldn’t explain.

LaDuke was one of many people across four southwestern states treated to an unusual early morning light show, which turned out to be bright, snaky, reflective contrails from a missile launch in New Mexico.

“I’ve watched the skies a lot, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” LaDuke said. “It was interesting how thick it was, and you could tell that it wasn’t a plane. And then it started taking off in more a wavy direction.”

He was in the Ridges on the Redlands about 6:30 a.m., traveling along Rana Road, when he looked directly south over the Uncompahgre Plateau and saw what he at first thought was a satellite or space junk.

But the “waves” reflecting the sunlight LaDuke saw told him it was something different.

(Video courtesy of Dave Hall.)

The Army confirmed later that three unarmed missiles were fired from Fort Wingate, near Gallup, N.M. The explosion that LaDuke and countless others saw was the separation of the first and second stages of a Juno missile, according to the Army.

People saw the bright light show in Colorado, Utah, 
Arizona and Nevada, and there were reports of hundreds of calls to police and media across the Southwest about the unusual sight.

What many people did not see was the aftermath of the bright contrail from the Juno. Aerospace company Lockheed-Martin reported later Thursday that two of their PAC-3 Missile were also fired — from White Sands Missile Range, more than 350 miles away from Fort Wingate — and at least one successfully intercepted the tactical ballistic missile that many saw in the morning skies.

According to Lockheed-
Martin, the PAC-3 Missile is “the most technologically advanced missile for the PATRIOT air defense system.”

LaDuke said the whole thing happened in mere minutes. By the time he ran back inside the day care where he had dropped off his son, to get him to come out and see the show, the missile “had pretty much burned up by then.”

“We were both excited and wondering what it was,” he said.


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