Aerospace specialists are split on whether objects spotted in the sky over Newfoundland this week were dangerous missiles, or simply model rockets.

Two Harbour Mille, Newfoundland neighbours took photos of three large, silver, bullet-shaped objects at dusk on Monday night. The women insist the objects were missiles.

The Canadian government said there were no military training sessions scheduled for that day, and speculation hit a fever pitch after France announced it successfully launched a missile on Wednesday, two days after the women took the photos.

Dr. David Greatrix, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Ryerson University in Toronto said he is 90 per cent certain the objects in the photographs are military rockets.

“This is not an amateur rocket. This is more likely a military missile,” said Greatrix, who specializes in rocket propulsion.

“If it was an amateur rocket launched from a boat as a joke, it’s possible, but the trajectory of that angle, you’d see it more vertical,” he said. The women described the objects as travelling diagonally upwards.

There was no official military activity in Newfoundland around the time the objects were seen, but Greatrix says all signs suggest the objects were part of a military training exercise -- whether planned or otherwise.

He said the plume of smoke leads him to believe the object is moving towards a training target, but noted: “There is a very small chance that it was an inadvertent launch."

Greatrix said the objects are not likely long-range ballistic missiles, but rather “surface-to-air” missiles, which are smaller and are launched by a ship to protect against incoming missiles.

“The fact that it’s off of Newfoundland, it’s hard to believe it would be a ballistic missile.”

Greatrix said testing a surface-to-air missile would not cause damage because crews on the ground would detonate it before it could hit land.

Travelling too slow to be a ballistic missile

But Dr. Billy Allan, a former experimental flight test engineer with the Department of National Defence, says the objects appear to be travelling at less than the speed of sound.

That rules out the French ballistic M51 missile that travels 13,000 kilometres per hour, said Allan, who is now a professor at Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

“There’s nothing that travels that fast that you can sit there and take pictures of it,” he said.

He also said the objects are unlikely to be surface-to-air weapons because the plume of smoke would be longer.

Allan said it is unlikely that tests would be done close to towns or villages, and said anyone launching test aircraft must apply to Transport Canada for permission.

“Official (tests) which aren’t cheap, are done in official ranges, because they need to know how it performs,” he said.

“There’s no credible agency in Canada or the allies that would be testing anything off the coast of Newfoundland.”

Allan said he can’t be sure of the size of the objects from the photos, but said they could be sophisticated model rockets.

“They make pretty big models,” he said, explaining that his students launched rockets last year.

“It is quite an impressive display,” he said, describing the smoke and fire their metre-long rockets emitted.

Jeremy Laliberte, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa says the size of objects over the ocean could be misinterpreted from a distance.

He said model rocket motors can often explode like fireworks and shoot fire like the objects in the photos did.

He said launches usually end after only a few seconds, but if something goes wrong, they can remain suspended in air for up to 15 minutes.

“My first thought was some sort of hobbyist with a home built thing gone awry, and they may not want to admit it,” he said.