However, he said not all the images appeared to be tampered with. North Korea state media reported the Hwasong-15 reached an altitude of 4,475 kilometers (2,800 miles), putting the "whole" USA mainland in range. "But mainly I took a look at these images with a specific interest in the directions they were taken, because I was discussing the geolocation of the launch site with @ArmsControlWonk and the noted the oddities", he wrote.
Essentially, North Korea's claims about the source of their images don't match with the stars visible in the pictures.
Another indication the image may have been altered is that to capture images of stars, a photographer would have to use a longer exposure, which would result in a blurry (or not sharp) image of the actual rocket liftoff.
Thus, North Korea conducted its first missile launching, since 15 September.
Then why did the North Korean government choose to alter the photos?
It is very unlikely that a plane would be hit by a random missile, though. The starry background helps highlight the missile and give it an ethereal quality, giving the photograph some texture that a near pitch-black background would not.
North Korea routinely fails to follow that rule and has ignored several letters from the ICAO urging it to inform airline officials of its plan to launch missiles.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said he still had confidence in diplomatic efforts to address the North Korea situation, but that the USA also has military options available.
That's an important data point that helps experts calculate everything from range to payload.
"Stars just don't look that different a few miles apart, and we have no reason to disbelieve that this launch was from the Pyongsong region north of Pyongyang", McDowell said. Early last month, USA officials told CNN that the North was developing a new, more advanced ICBM, one potentially superior to the Hwasong-14 ICBM tested twice successfully in July.
"I don't think we've seen any evidence of that, so it looks like they just cut out a star background and put it on to make it look cool", he said.