Video of expanding light bubble over Hawaii

Professional astronomers captured footage of an expanding bubble over Hawaii, but it took the combined efforts of citizen astronomers to shed light on its cause.

It doesn’t get any cooler than this. This footage of an expanding bubble over Hawaii is from a webcam mounted outside the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope located near the summit of Mauna Kea mountain on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Atmospheric flare from a minuteman III ICBM missile from Kanoa on Vimeo.

See the bubble? Interesting, no? A discussion last week – initiated by Ichi Tanaka, a support astronomer of the Suburu Telescope in Hawaii – on the Starship Asterisk blog (excellent discussion forum of wildly popular APOD) seems to have brought the source of the bubble to light. Here’s what astronomer Ichi Tanaka originally wrote:

… we, Subaru Telescope observers on the summit of Mauna Kea, noticed that there is a huge halo of light above the eastern horizon. It was slowly expanding to over 45 degrees in 5 minutes or more.

The event was captured by the Subaru Catwalk Night Camera and also by CHFT’s NNW webcam.

Kanoa Withington of CFHT made the movie of the event, above, which he placed on Vimeo.

Subsequent discussion revealed the plausibility of the bubble’s being related to a Minuteman III missile launch on that morning. As more people on the forum dug into it, the timing was found to be right. The missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base (in California) at 03:35 Hawaii time, just minutes before the two observatories recorded the bubble.

Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait followed forum discussion of the event and explains how citizen astronomers figured out the source of the expanding Hawaiian bubble, while also offering some explanations for the bubble’s appearance.

Follow the discussion on Starship Asterisk – fascinating!

Read more from Phil Plait

Newly discovered land crab species disappeared from Hawaii 1,000 years ago

Sam Ohu Gon says native Hawaiian plants and animals becoming rare

Deborah Byrd