Photos: Missile launch lights up Arizona sky


by Catherine Holland

GMAZ interview by Scott Pasmore and Stella Inger

Posted on September 13, 2012 at 6:26 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 12:12 PM

Map: Fort Wingate, N.M.

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PHOENIX -- An early morning missile launch out of Gallup and White Sands, N.M. lit up the predawn sky over Arizona Thursday.

The contrail was visible all over the Phoenix Metro area, as well as in cities throughout the state.

Not knowing what caused the spectacular light show, many people were quite concerned. Phones in the 3TV newsrooms started ringing off the hook shortly after 5:30 a.m.

"We launched a target -- it's called a Juno," explained Cammy Montoya of the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. That target was launched out Fort Wingate in Gallup, N.M., followed by a Patriot interceptor from the missile range.

The contrail we saw was likely the aftermath of the launch, as well as from the Juno's booster, which separated from the target and landed in the Cibola National Forest.

Montoya said launches like the one that took place Thursday morning require an immense amount of preparation and are relatively rare, happening only every year or every other year.

"It's one of our high-end, very intense launches," she said. "It's not one of our everyday things."

According to Orbital Sciences in Chandler, which built the Juno target, the last such launch took place on March 2, 2011.

Describing the operation as a success, Montoya said there's no danger associated with the launch and that everything went as planned.

The brilliant contrail had mostly dissipated by about 6 a.m.

White Sands Missile Range, which opened in 1945, is about 380 miles east of Phoenix.

Fort Wingate, the origin of the Juno target responsible ffor what we saw in the sky Thursday morning, is about 5 hours northeast of the Valley.

Raw video shot by 3TV's Arnold Espinoza