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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

The Norway Spiral

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

10-12-2009 12:06 CST


I had a fun conversation with Paul Harris just now on his show at KTRS about the crazy spiral that showed up in Norwegian skies yesterday. You can listen here. The video below, just one of many posted on Youtube in the minutes and hours after this thing appeared in the skies over Norway, is one of the most astonishing sky phenomena I've ever seen. Not only is there that crazy spinning spiral, but the way its center opens up in what looks for all the world like sci-fi movie's "gate to another dimension" is just freaky. Of course, as with most initially unidentified flying objects, it had an explanation: with all the publicity since yesterday Russia was forced to admit publicly that the spiral was the highly visible and embarrassing failure of a test of its submarine-launched Bulava ICBM. (Ah, those Russian SLBMs -- how well The Planetary Society knows their reliability!) In years before everybody and his dog owned a cell phone with photo or video capability, the Russians would have been much happier to let people think it was an alien signal. Instead, we get videos like the one below. (I'm sure there are better ones -- I needed to grab one fast, and I liked the clanky sci-fi music on this one.)

Within hours of the appearance of the first videos,'s Doug Ellison, a 3D animator by trade, had come up with a simulation of how a rocket launch failure could result in such a striking pattern in the sky. This video is an updated and improved version of the first one he posted.

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