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A strange spiral appeared over Norwegian skies Monday morning, prompting wild speculation.  (Source: Rex Features via the Daily Mail)

The spiral was proceeded by a brilliant blue-green trail and followed by a brilliant blue-green beam of light that last several minutes. The event resembled a sighting over China last year.  (Source: Svain-Egil Haugsen via Daily Mail)

A British animators came up with a 3D simulation suggesting a rocket could have at least caused the smoky spiral effect.  (Source: Daily Mail)

Russians later claimed responsibility for the show, claiming it to be caused by a failed intercontinental ballistic missile test launch.  (Source: Knut Anders Karlsen via Daily Mail)

A similar spiral occurred over China last year, which the Russians' story does not fully explain.  (Source: Daily Mail)
Aliens and swamp gas were not involved, says Russia

Observers in northern Norway Wednesday morning witnessed a bizarre spiral appear in the sky at around 7:49 a.m.  They first saw a blue light soar up from over a mountain to a north.  The light then paused in midair and began circling.  Before long, like the closing scene from the Japanese horror film Uzumaki, a massive spiral had filled the air.

Then came a brilliant beam of green-blue light which shot out of the center and lasted 10 to 12 minutes, before suddenly vanishing.  Citizens described the bizarre sighting to be like "like a big fireball that went around, with a great light around it" and "a shooting star that spun around and around". 

Totto Eriksen, from Tromsø, was walking his daughter Amelie to school when he spotted the strange spectacle.  He describes to VG Nett, "It spun and exploded in the sky.  We saw it from the Inner Harbor in Tromsø. It was absolutely fantastic.  It looked like the moon was coming over the mountain, but then came something completely different"

The Norwegian Meteorological Institute was flooding by calls from concerned citizens wonder what a logical explanation of the phenomena might be.  Celebrity astronomer Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard's early guess later proved prophetic.  He postulated, "My first thought was that it was a fireball meteor, but it has lasted far too long.  It may have been a missile in Russia, but I can not guarantee that it is the answer."

A British engineer named Doug Ellison, an animator and multimedia producer for a medical firm in Leicester, jumped in offering a 3D simulation that similarly suggested the bizarre light show was the result of a failed launch.  He made a simulation in 3D Studio Max of a spinning box, which produced a similar spiral trail. 

Mr. Ellison, who runs the forum unmannedspaceflight.com describes, "Once I saw the photos, and knowing a fair amount about space flight, the cause of the beautiful pattern seemed quite obvious to me.  Trying to explain it in layman's terms is quite hard, so I used some basic animation tools to try and emulate the effect.  I bolted two virtual particle emitters onto a small box - spun the box, then moved it at speed and low and behold, the spiral pattern, and the trail behind, both emerged as a result.  The people in northern Norway are lucky to have been in the right place, at the right time!"

Indeed, on Thursday the Russian newspaper Vedomosti cited a military source as saying the phenomenon was caused by a failed test launch of a intercontinental missile, dubbed Bulava.  Past launches had failed on the first stage, but this launch reportedly went off without a hitch, before experiencing the strange failure on the third stage.

The Russia armed forces initially denied these reports.  However, another source, stationed in Severodvinsk, told newspaper Kommersant that the Russian nuclear sub "Dmitri Donskoy" launched Monday for a program of test launches at sea.  The "Dmitri Donskoy" is reportedly the only sub capable of launching the Bulava missile.

On Thursday, more than 24 hours after the incident Russia decided to take responsibility for the incident.  The Ministry of Defense's press service told ITAR-TSS that the strange show was indeed generated by a third stage failure of the missile.

There are still unexplained details about the event that are sure to excite conspiracy theorists.  First of all the blue-green light would suggest the presence of copper(II) chloride in the rocket flame.  However, copper chloride, while commonly used in pyrotechnics, isn't hasn't traditionally been used in rocket fuel (though it has been reportedly investigated as a catalyst in propellant reactions).  Also strange is that a similar spiral and explosion occurred over China last year, according to the Daily Mail.  If it was indeed the third stage that caused the scene over Norway, and no previous launch had made it past the first stage, it's unclear what might have caused the similar scene in China.




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