Norway spiral video: Mystery solved

That Norway spiral video? There was speculation that it was a UFO arriving to congratulate President Barack Obama, but the Russian Defense Ministry has a more plausible explanation.

By , Staff writer

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    A strange, spiral light in the sky is seen above Skjervoy, Norway, on Dec. 9.
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A UFO? A Stargate style wormhole opening a path to other galaxies? The Aurora borealis?

A videotape of a strange spiraling cloud captured over Norway at dawn on Wednesday morning has had the Internet all atwitter (literally) with speculation as to its causes – everything from space aliens arriving to celebrate Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize award, to clandestine aviation tests.

Well, now it appears the mystery of the phenomenon, which bore some resemblance to a spiral galaxy, has been solved. Russia says it was the result of a failed test launch for its troubled Bulava missile program. In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said it fired a Bulava from a submarine in the White Sea near the Norwegian coast Wednesday morning. The intercontinental ballistic missile's first two stages worked perfectly, the ministry said, though the third stage engine proved "unstable."

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Though the ministry didn't provide an opinion on whether its missile was responsible for the spiral, rockets often start spiraling on their own during partial engine failure. And the fact that the first two stages worked as the powerful missile hurtled skyward meant it should have been high in the atmosphere before the problem occurred, leaving a spiral of exhaust that would have been illuminated by the lights of Norway before the missile exploded.

Though the phenomenon delighted thousands in Norway, the cause behind it is the source of some embarrassment for Russia, which has planned the Bulava to be the crown jewel in its sea-based nuclear program. The missile is designed to carry a nuclear payload and to be easily launched from attack submarines, but so far eight of 12 test launches have resulted in failure.

In fact, while ET wasn't coming to celebrate Obama's prize, the test was an ironic measure of the difficult tasks before the newest Nobel peace laureate. On top of currently presiding over two wars, Obama has promised to work hard on nuclear disarmament -- one of the things the Norwegian Nobel Committee said convinced it to pick him. The Bulava, meant to be deployed from hard-to-detect submarines, and built to have evasive maneuver capabilities to avoid being shot down, is a step further away from Obama's stated goal.

I've put some calls in to atmospheric scientists on how exactly the phenomenon might have been generated, and if they get back to me with answers, I will post again later today.

Meanwhile, here's the spiral video:

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