Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show 2023 DEW Attack On Hawaii -- It's A 2018 SpaceX Launch From California

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Photo Does NOT Show 2023 DEW Attack On Hawaii -- It's A 2018 SpaceX Launch From California Rocket Launch

Did a laser beam from a Directed Energy Weapon (DEW) blast Hawaii just before the wildfires started in August 2023? No, that's not true: This is not a photo of a DEW laser hitting Hawaii. It shows a time-lapse image of a SpaceX rocket launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on May 22, 2018.

A post (archived here) making the claim about a supposed DEW attack on Hawaii was published on Facebook on August 10, 2023 with this caption:

This photo is circulating social media. Apparently this beam was captured before the Hawaii fires. Can anyone confirm?

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of the writing of this fact check:
Screenshot 2023-08-18 at 2.16.16 PM.png

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Aug 18 15:35:15 2023 UTC)

This beam was not photographed from Hawaii before the wildfires broke out on August 8, 2023. The posted image shows the May 22, 2018, launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, made by U.S. manufacturer SpaceX, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. A May 23, 2018, photo essay published by ARS Technica mentioned the good weather that had made for unusually clear photographs.

A slideshow of photos from both SpaceX and NASA show the launch from several angles. The first photo of the series (pictured in the screenshot below) shows the same shoreline with the Falcon 9 rocket visible in the frame. The slideshow image which follows is the one that has been misrepresented as a laser beam hitting Hawaii.


(Source: arstechnica.com screenshot taken on Fri Aug 18 16:17:24 2023 UTC)

In the composite image below, the two images can be compared side by side. A notable difference is the surface of the ocean: On the left, there are breaking waves, but the image on the right seems to have soft patches of seafoam. These are the same ocean waves, but the motion that was frozen in time in the left photo, appears blurred in the time-lapse photo on the right. This difference can also be observed in the clouds.

The "beam of light" in the right photo was not something that spectators could have perceived with their eyes. The photo shows several seconds in time as the Falcon 9 rose from the launch pad. The bright fire of the rocket's engines created a straight line as it climbed. Not all time-lapse launch photos of a rocket's trajectory show a straight vertical climb; some appear to show a giant arc.


(Source: Lead Stories composite image of arstechnica.com screenshots taken on Fri Aug 18 16:17:24 2023 UTC)

Lead Stories has debunked several conspiracies about the Maui wildfires that use fake, misidentified and mislabeled images that purport to show Directed Energy Weapons or laser beams igniting fires in Maui. Those fact checks can be found here.

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


Read more about or contact Sarah Thompson

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