Remember the Norway Spiral back in 2009 and the Australian Spiral in 2010? On June 7, 2012 there was another swirling spiral of light, this time see in the skies over the Middle East. People across the region reported seeing a “UFO” and soon videos began showing up on YouTube.
The strange sight has been confirmed to be a Russian ballistic missile test of the Topol ICBM from the Kapustin Yar firing range near Astrakhan in southern Russia.
In several videos from Israel, Syria, Iran and other Middle East, the object started out looking somewhat like a comet and then started spiraling.
But this missile wasn’t out of control. Alan Boyle from MSNBC’s Cosmic Log talked with space analyst Jim Oberg, who said the Topol’s “third-stage spin is a ‘feature,’ not a malfunction, and may be associated with guidance, or decoy deploy, or enhancing hardness against U.S. boost-phase antimissile weapons.”
Oberg also noted a few other “coincidences” of why this particular missile test was seen while other similar tests haven’t been viewed. If the Russians were testing the associated warhead’s ‘penaids’ — “penetration aids to frustrate tracking and targeting by U.S. anti-missile systems,” this would result in a trajectory that was higher than normal, allowing it to be seen from a greater distance.
Another contributing factor, Oberg said, is “It’s June — near the time of the ‘midnight sun’ in northern latitudes. That means sunlight is streaming over the pole, throughout the night. Something in the northern sky above the atmosphere over Kazakhstan would be backlit by that sunlight.”
Here’s another video.
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 the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.