Mystery Blob Over West Huntsville – UPDATE!
4:40 PM Thursday UPDATE:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Routine testing at Redstone creates unusual radar patterns
Redstone Arsenal, Ala.- On Tuesday routine tests were being conducted at Redstone’s airfield. During these tests RR-188 (chaff) was dropped from aircraft. This chaff showed as an anomaly on local weather screens as weather conditions caused it to linger longer than normal.
This substance is commonly used by the military in training and testing operations.
There are no known environmental effects caused by RR-188.
“Redstone is committed to ensuring environmental stewardship while balancing that with our critical missions to support the war fighter,” said COL John S. Hamilton, Garrison commander.
Public Affairs Specialist
11:45AM Update: Redstone Arsenal Releases Statement
Public Relations Specialist, Terri Stover, has released the following statement in relation to media inquiries about the mysterious blob detected on radar.
“Aviation and missile technology testing at Redstone collects data that protects and improves the weapon systems that America’s sons and daughters are using in ongoing overseas contingency operations, and in forward-deployed areas worldwide. As a matter of Operational Security policy, we do not offer details concerning the circumstances under which testing activities are performed. Further, discussing specific measures and operational procedures could adversely affect the success of testing activities. We routinely evaluate and validate weapon systems and components so that we and our allies can maintain the edge over adversaries. Testing assures that war fighting capabilities are in a high state of readiness.”
–Updated by WHNT News 19 Staff
11:00 AM Update: UAH finds fiberglass chaff on Zierdt Road:
10:30 AM Update: The radar experts at UAHuntsville weigh in and call the mysterious blob “chaff.” Here’s the UAH animation of the blob reflectivity and velocity data: UAH Radar Loop. This is not an official statement, and it does not attempt to explain it in full.
So what is chaff? There are not any official sources that define chaff, so what you’re about to read comes from a Wikipedia entry. It’s a good enough definition:
Chaff, originally called Window by the British, and Düppel by the Second World War era German Luftwaffe (from the Berlin suburb where it was first developed), is a radar countermeasure in which aircraft or other targets spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminium, metallized glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of secondary targets on radar screens or swamps the screen with multiple returns.
Modern armed forces use chaff (in naval applications, for instance, using short-range SRBOC rockets) to distract radar-guided missiles from their targets. Most military aircraft and warships have chaff dispensing systems for self-defence. An intercontinental ballistic missile may release in its midcourse phase several independent warheads, a large number of decoys, and chaff.
Chaff can also be used to signal distress by an aircraft when communications are not functional. This has the same effect as an SOS, and can be picked up on radar. It is done by dropping chaff every 2 minutes.
There are a lot of old radar depictions of chaff, but none of them look like what we saw over Huntsville yesterday. Here’s an example from AccuWeather’s Jesse Ferrell.
It still doesn’t really tell us why UAHuntsville’s ceilometer didn’t register anything. That’s still strange to me.
8:15 AM Wednesday: No anomalies on radar this morning…just heavy storms. We’re still trying to figure out what that mystery blob was yesterday. If we find out, we will let you know.
10:15 PM Update: There is still no official word on what this radar anomaly over Huntsville is. It’s still there at 10:15 PM, though. Whatever it is, it’s showing less and less reflectivity by the minute, so it may dissipate soon.
If anyone fesses up to what it is, we’ll pass it on! I get the idea it’s nothing to be worried about; if it is something from the Arsenal, we may never know exactly what happened if it is indeed a test of some sort.
6:30 PM Update: Whatever it is, it’s still there!
The National Weather Service in Huntsville and some of UAHuntsville’s radar experts are collaborating to try to crack this mystery. If anyone can figure it out, it’ll probably be the folks at UAH. We’ll let you know when new information is available.
6:00 PM Update: Just got a note from Bill at Huntsville Utilities; they found no damage or strange frequency coming from the substation. Back to the drawing board…
We may never know what it is if it’s coming from a test at the Arsenal. Top secret stuff trumps our desire to know what’s going on.
4:50 PM Update: I just got off the phone with Bill Yell at Huntsville Utilities, and it appears that this mystery blob could be the result of a damaged substation in the Madison or West Huntsville area. Huntsville Utilities is sending out a person with a spectral analyzer to see if indeed there is some kind of frequency being generated at the substation that would “trick” the radar into thinking there is something there.
It may be later tonight or even tomorrow before we know if that is the cause, but since UAH has not seen anything resembling chaff, clouds, or anything else in their ceilometer readings, it sounds plausible at this point. Bill says there are no service problems in the area, so any “damage” at a substation could have been done by lightning weakening some of the components in last weekend’s storms.
In fact, Bill said RF interference created by a substation damaged by a lightning strike is not out of the ordinary, and it can do some strange things to sensors like radars, radios, etc.
We will see!
No, we don’t know what that blob on radar is over West Huntsville this afternoon. It’s centered near the northwest edge of Redstone Arsenal close to Zierdt Road and Madison Boulevard/I-565:
What we do know is there is no smoke, the sky is clear (underneath a few passing clouds), and it’s not rain.
My guess is that we won’t ever find out what it is because it’s probably a result of a military test.
If they tell us what it is, we’ll let you know!