A white light hovering above Florida left people wondering whether they had seen a UFO this week – but, depending on your viewpoint, the official explanation is arguably more sinister.
Footage of the strange circular light began to flood social media on Tuesday night.
“I think we just saw a UFO in Delray Beach, Florida,” one Twitter user wrote, describing it as “disintegrating into the sky” before adding: “Coolest thing ever.”
Another appeared to joke: “Nobody panic. It’s just a wormhole with a craft coming out of it.”
But experts began to weigh in.
The Drive reported that a series of NOTAM (notices to airmen) had been filed to aviation authorities this week alerting pilots to the fact that planned rocket launches could pose a potential hazard.
While the outlet reported on Tuesday that the US Navy had not yet confirmed such a test, despite typically doing so very soon afterwards, it said that it was “clear” that a Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile test had occurred over the Atlantic Ocean.
According to the notices, the missile launched from the Florida coast and re-entered east of Ascension Island, taking a route spanning some 5,200 miles, The Drive reported.
Local meteorologist Zach Covey concurred, tweeting: “No that’s not a UFO. It was a Trident-II SLBM Missile Test from a submarine off the coast of Florida. This missile test had been scheduled for the past few days and we just so happened to catch it tonight.”
DID YOU SEE THAT | No that's not a UFO. It was a Trident-II SLBM Missile Test from a submarine off the coast of Flo… https://t.co/Eze3vH3xjV
And Eric Vandernoot, an astronomy and physics lab coordinator at Florida Atlantic University, told WPTV: “The fact that you’re seeing people from the Hobe Sound and the Bahamas seeing it simultaneously tells me that it’s extremely high up in the sky. This clearly seems to indicate to me it’s really high up in the sky, so people should not be worried.”
Experts were initially unable to suggest whether the test was carried out by the US Navy or the British Royal Navy – with neither military force apparently as keen as usual to tout a successful launch.
But the US Navy’s Strategic Systems Programmes (SSP) department eventually took responsibility on Thursday, confirming the test of the D5 submarine missile was “part of a scheduled, ongoing system evaluation test”.
“Launches are conducted on a frequent, recurring basis to ensure the continued reliability of the system. Each test activity provides valuable information about our systems, thus contributing to assurance in our capabilities,” an SSP spokesperson told The Drive.
“Test missiles are not armed, and Strategic Systems Programmes does not routinely announce missile testing. Information regarding the test launch of Trident II (D5) missiles is classified before the launch.”
Both London and Washington employ Trident II D5 ballistic missiles as deterrents.
The Guardian reported in 2016 that the nuclear weapons, which are 13 metres long and weigh 60,000kg, can carry nuclear warheads with up to eight times the power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Each missile was said to cost £17m.
This week’s test appeared to follow a similar trajectory to most Trident missile launches, including the route planned for a missile launched from the Florida coast by HMS Vengeance in 2015 – which caused a stir in the House of Commons as a US official admitted it had to be ordered to “self-destruct” after an “anomaly” was detected.