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What was the Norway Spiral?

Just what created the big blue spiral in the sky over Norway in the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 2009? Time traveling Borgs? Psychedelic aliens? Most likely, it was something much more terrestrial and much more boring. Many reports say it was the failed launch of a Russian rocket, probably a Bulava ICBM, a problem-plagued Russian missile that reportedly had several test launches scheduled. Although Russian officials haven’t confirmed this (and in fact one official denied there was any rocket launch in the area) an anonymous Russian military source said it actually was failed launch from a submarine in the White Sea early Wednesday morning.

UPDATE (Dec. 10): Russia has finally admitted a missile accident with the Bulava ICBM. This rocket already has failed six of 13 previous tests, according to the BBC, so Russia might have been a little embarrassed about it.

In what seems to confirm a rocket launch, yesterday, a message from NAVTEX was issued message warning airplanes not to fly, and ships not to sail in that area:

031230 UTC DEC 09
09 DC 0200 TO 0900 10 DEC 0100 TO 0900

Additionally, a researcher at the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory (where they observe auroras) Truls Lynne Hansen is certain that the light was caused by a missile launch. “The missile has probably come out of control and exploded,” Hansen was quoted in the Barents Observer. “The peculiar spiral shaped light pattern comes from reflection of the sun in the leaking fuel.”

Light in the sky over Norway, see at 7:50 am local time. Photo: Jan Petter Jørgensen via Vaeret

Light in the sky over Norway, see at 7:50 am local time. Photo: Jan Petter Jørgensen via Vaeret

Visible in the images and videos is the sunlight just beginning to peek over the horizon which would have back-lit the fuel.

Another launch on November 1 also caused strange light phenomenon in northern parts of Norway, although not as spectacular as the one today. It also caused speculation as to the cause, but it came from the launch of a Sineva missile from the nuclear submarine in the White Sea.

Doug Ellison from UnmannedSpaceflight.com has created a video (updated and improved from his earlier version we had in our previous article) showing the morphology of a tumbling rocket stage throwing out unspent fuel in two directions. “This is a set of rendered views using 3DS Max to produce a coarse simulation of what may have occurred to produce the beautiful formation in the sky over Norway earlier today,” he said. “It is not an ‘official’ answer, though. It looks beautiful, but there’s probably a fairly ordinary explanation.”

Other explanations?

Here are just a few that were emailed to me today:

Aurora: Not likely. No aurora has ever taken on this shape.

Birkeland Current: Again, not likely. A Birkeland Current a magnetic field aligned current in the Earth’s magnetosphere which flows from the magnetotail towards the Earth on the dawn side and in the other direction on the dusk side of the magnetosphere. Birkeland currents often show filamentary, or twisted “rope-like” magnetic structure, and they create the aurora Borealis and Australis when they reach the upper atmosphere.

Poisk module: This Russian module undocked from the International Space Station yesterday, and a employee at Boeing said the module would have had unspent fuel which would have been released on reentry. However, the timing doesn’t seem to be right as to when it would have burned up the in the atmosphere.

Projection: There has been some talk this was just a projection on the sky. However, the phenomenon was seen in a wide area, meaning such a projection would have to be huge. Again, not likely.

This Chinese video was posted to You Tube in in April 2009, and it shows the same spiral formation in the sky. Since it is in Chinese, it is hard to know what they are talking about, but it appears to be a television show talking about UFO’s, and something that happened 20 or more years ago. Just posted for reference:

Sources: Barents Observer, Navtex


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Olaf December 11, 2009, 2:54 PM

    Just remember this is a “failed” rocket launch!
    The flight plan might look very strange and erratic.

  • ND December 11, 2009, 6:10 PM
  • shadow1 December 12, 2009, 6:51 AM

    I saw either this or the same thing in the midlands?? i didnt see a spiral only the glowing ball then the trail lasted about 4seconds in total and was more green in colour… how????

  • ivar December 12, 2009, 7:35 AM

    Olaf: ” – Just remember this is a “failed” rocket launch!”>>>

    – I wrote about phenomena, which i observed in Kazakhstan 10.12.09( beside 13.00 GMT) ,-in 30 hours after Norwegian phenomena.

  • Abelard December 12, 2009, 10:30 PM
  • Jon Hanford December 14, 2009, 11:18 AM

    @ ivar,

    Sounds like you may have witnessed a second launch, as described by Dr. Phil (Plait) over at Bad Astronomy: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/12/12/another-russian-rocket-spiral-lights-up-the-sky/ . Especially the terminal portion of the flight being located in Kazakhstan.

  • shinji_dai December 16, 2009, 12:38 PM

    I still think it has something to do with the HAARP project, I suppose it could be a failed rocket launch, but then I’m not inclined to believe much of what the government offers as explanations.

    And technically speaking it was a UFO, it was an unidentified flying object, not saying it WAS connected to aliens, but wouldn’t it be cool if it was.

    But my money still rests on the HAARP project and Russia is just covering it up, because the US wants it to, you see no blame being put on the US, and you can say that that’s because we didn’t have anyone in that area, but who needs to be there when you have a gigantic array of machines that were built “to study the aurora” but could possibly do more.

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