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Jets, comets, mystery

Community: After a month of questions, scientists and authorities give theories

Posted: June 7, 2010 8:38 p.m.
Updated: June 7, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 


It's been about one month since the heavens over Santa Clarita opened up with a roar and revealed - something.

It's still not absolutely clear what caused such a commotion at about 8:30 p.m. May 4.

Initial reports referred to a "jet doing doughnuts," according to a complaint filed with Edwards Air Force Base, and to "two jets" according to several e-mails to The Signal.

After a month of probing, the skies over Santa Clarita Valley appear a little more cluttered than first thought.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirm bits of Halley's Comet appear every year at this time, from the end of April to the end of May, peaking around May 6.

FAA radar data obtained by The Signal puts the jet identified by Edwards Air Force about 1,000 feet lower than base officials had reported.

Dennis G. Shoffner, civil outreach director for Edwards Air Force base, identified the jet by name as Jester 02, which he said left restricted Air Force space at 8:39 p.m.

Jester 02 was logged in with Edwards Air Force base and scheduled to conduct a return test flight to the West Coast. It was supposed to fly at 10,500 feet to Point Mugu and 9,500 feet above the ground on its way back.

FAA air traffic controllers have the definitive and final word when it comes to monitoring and identifying objects moving in our skies, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.

"We reviewed radar data and saw only one aircraft that departed Edwards, flew out over the ocean and returned to Edwards. It was between 8,500 and 9,500 feet during the entire flight," Gregor said.

FAA radar data shows a 1,000-foot difference in the altitude reported initially by Edwards Air Force Base personnel.
Signal readers commenting online said the ear-splitting jet noise seemed to indicate it was lower than usual, prior to the FAA radar data published here.

Efforts late Friday afternoon to reach officials at the Edwards Air Force Base and allow them to respond to the apparent discrepancy were unsuccessful.

And as for reports of a second craft, one doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that an asteroid belt could be to blame for the sightings. But it helps.

"Everyone describes what they see in the sky in a different way," said Jet Propulsion Laboratories spokeswoman Jane Platt. "Does it glow? In my description, it glows for a brief moment."

Objects seen in the sky just prior to May 6 are more than likely part of the Eta Aquarids asteroid belt made up of debris from Halley's Comet.

The Earth passes through the belt every year between April 28 and May 21, with peak activity witnessed early in the morning on May 6.

During that time, the meteor count could reach 60 meteors per hour in the Southern Hemisphere and about 15 meteors per hour in the Northern Hemisphere.

Do the meteors move as quickly jets?

According to Platt, they travel through the sky with a velocity of 42 miles per second.

Short answer: Yes, they move as fast as jets.

"Our asteroid expert says he has not had any reports on that day (May 4) but that there could very well have been a fireball on that day," Platt said.

Do they perform "doughnuts" in the sky, as reported in the complaint to Edwards Air Force Base?

No.

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