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6:20am — That Streak of Light

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Morning sky lights up from White Sands anti-missile test.

9:10am UPDATE: An online reader from Phoenix e-mails that he saw "that strange light in the sky" this morning. "People here were wondering what it was, so I told them I thought it could be a missile test at White Sands because I remembered seeing something like this in the morning sky about 10 years ago. I found your article and was happy to see that I was correct."

The El Paso Times also reported this morning that police had several calls from residents in the northeastern part of the city who had seen two separate flashes in the early-morning sky. The first flash was created by a Hera ballistic missile, the target vehicle, and the second, smaller flash occurred when the THAAD missile struck and destroyed the Hera, which had climbed above the Earth’s shadow, giving the Sun a chance to light up its smoky trail, the El Paso Times reported.

Just about an hour ago, there was a spectacular streak of light in the southern sky that had people wondering. (Was it a UFO? The North Koreans?)

It was from a test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (formerly Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD) anti-missile missile at White Sands Missile Range at 5:17 a.m.,  Cammy Montoya of the range’s public affairs office tells

The eerily shifting light came from the contrail of the target that was launched from the far northern end of the missile range, Montoya said.

The THAAD missile was launched from the extreme southern end of the range, Montoya said.

The test was successful, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering, director of the  Missile Defense Agency, which manages the THAAD program, announced this morning.

The THAAD weapons system not only met all its test objectives this morning, but exceeded its objectives by intercepting the Hera ballistic missile target, according to a news release from Lockheed Martin Corp., which designed the system for the MDA.

It was the third successful THAAD developmental flight test since testing of the system resumed last November, according to the release. Two more test flights are scheduled to take place at White Sands Missile Range before THAAD testing moves to the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii, Lockheed Martin said.

The THAAD interceptor is the only weapons system that engages incoming ballistic missiles "at both endo- and exo-atmospheric altitudes" — that is, just inside and just outside Earth’s atmosphere, according to the release.

One of the perks of driving into work as the sun comes up is the occasional light show in the morning sky. Today was better than most days, with a full moon off to the southwest, lightning flashes over the Sandias and Manzanos to the east and southeast and glints of sunlight off the clouds promising daylight while it’s still a little dark on the ground. And, of course, the odd missile test.

Makes you wonder what it must have been like 61 years ago when the dawn came up like thunder on what is now called the White Sands Missile Range (then the Alamogordo Bombing Range) in the world’s first atomic bomb test. The Day of Trinity — July 16, 1945 — dawned just before 5:30 a.m. with a flash that was seen up to 150 miles away and rattled windows far from the high desert of the Jornada del Muerto.