Posted By Fred Lusk
Six of us were out there with our scopes taking advantage of excellent skies (for November). I first spotted the missile a couple minutes before I took this photo. It was just west of south and about 15 degrees above the horizon. Initially, it looked like a police helicopter in the distance, except that the "spotlight" was pointed behind it instead of down. The "cloud" the "spotlight" was illuminating looked like a patch of our normal wintertime Tule Fog. From our perspective, the trajectory appeared to start on a heading of roughly NW to NNW, then it curved to almost due west. From start to finish, it took perhaps ten to fifteen minutes to unfold, although we weren't really keeping track.
We guessed it was a missile launch from Vandenberg AFB, which we have seen before from Central California and that it was bright because it was high enough to catch the setting sun (on the ground, the sun had set about an hour earlier). We didn't guess a submarine.
As the missile got closer, the "cone cloud" got bigger and at some point the cloud seemed to separate from the missile and a new and larger "cone cloud" appeared. We guessed it might have been a second stage firing. The first cloud became a large, amorphous patch of light pollution covering parts of Sagittarius and Capricorn.
My last look in binoculars was akin to an artist's rendering of a black hole, with grey "beams" up and down and a dark grey "accretion disk."
We figured it would be hard to beat the missile sighting the rest of the night, but we toughed it out. I was at Eastman until about 1:30 working through my observing plan and catching the occasional Taurid meteor. Our skies were so good compared to most nights here that the Orion Nebula showed considerable detail in my 8" when it was just 10 degrees above the horizon and the OIII just made it better.