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Missile launch? Lens flare? Mysterious object spotted over Navy base raises questions

WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- It's time to get out that tinfoil hat.

A mysterious object was spotted by a local photographer over the skies of Whidbey Island early Sunday morning, leading to lots of speculation and questions, but no solid answers.

Greg Johnson of Skunk Bay Weather was looking through the pictures snapped by a weather camera on the Kitsap Peninsula when he spotted a photo with a mysterious object. The picture - snapped at 3:56 a.m. Sunday by a high-quality, 20-second exposure camera - shows a bright orange streak in the early morning sky over Whidbey Island.

Johnson told KCPQ he was hesitant to release the photo.

Mostly, because it appears to be a missile launched from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

"I feel strongly it was a missile launch," Johnson said.

But Tom Mills, a spokesperson for NAS Whidbey Island, said it wasn't a missile launch from the facility. There are no missile launch capabilities on the Navy base at Whidbey Island.

In fact, Navy workers are wondering what it was, too.

"There's a lot of speculation around here," Mills said, suggesting it could be lens flare. "But it's definitely not a missile launch."

Cliff Mass, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, posted the photos on his blog Monday. Speculation in the comments runs from a Photoshopped picture to airplanes. But Mass agreed with Johnson's assessment.

"It really looks like an ascending missile," Mass wrote on his blog.

Regardless of what it was, Johnson said it's one of the weirder things he's spotted in his time as a weather photographer.

"I've seen a lot of stuff," Johnson said. "But nothing like this."

Tyler Rogoway at The Drive did some research and landed on a likely - if not exactly scintillating - answer: The object might have been an air ambulance helicopter that was flying in the area at almost exactly the same time.