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Earth Space

Gigantic Spiral of Light Observed Over Norway; Rocket To Blame? 418

Ch_Omega writes "A mysterious light display appearing over Norway last night (more pictures) has left thousands of residents in the north of the country baffled. Witnesses from Trøndelag to Finnmark compared the amazing display to anything from a Russian rocket to a meteor to a shock wave — although no one appears to have mentioned UFOs yet. The phenomenon began when what appeared to be a blue light seemed to soar up from behind a mountain. It stopped mid-air, then began to circulate. Within seconds a giant spiral had covered the entire sky. Then a green-blue beam of light shot out from its center — lasting for ten to twelve minutes before disappearing completely. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute was flooded with telephone calls after the light storm — which astronomers have said did not appear to have been connected to the aurora, or Northern Lights, so common in that area of the world." The Bad Astronomer makes the case that a malfunctioning rocket spewing fuel is a parsimonious explanation, backed up by witnesses to similar events and a cool simulation (on video). An anonymous reader suggests that this Proton-M Carrier Rocket might be responsible for the display.
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Gigantic Spiral of Light Observed Over Norway; Rocket To Blame?

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:24PM (#30380362) Journal
    Odin's back. And he's pissed. The spiral is his wide brimmed hat. And he's finally got his favorite blue laser back from Loki. Unfortunately he can only use it on one person per night. Huginn and Muninn are doing surveillance right now so it's time to get those shrines up in the backyard, people! Raise your cups of mead and abandon Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc. The Norse were right, repent before it's too late! Finally, a reason to worship a deity I can identify with--Loki!
  • by Tofino (628530) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:29PM (#30380410)
    There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!
    • There was. Huge boom. Allegedly hears across hundreds of miles. I bet the operator hit the "self destruct" button.

  • by wiredog (43288) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:30PM (#30380430) Journal

    Sending Bogons back from the Future.

  • BA (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yert (25874) <mmgarland3&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:30PM (#30380434)
    BadAsstronomer seems to have picked up on a TV station's assertion that it was a russian ICBM test launch - it's certainly pretty, but unfortunately, not the black hole the LHC was supposed to bring us. Bastards.
  • by Tofino (628530) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:31PM (#30380440)
    All hands on deck: Swirly thing alert!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by oldspewey (1303305)
      Attention travellers: The Department of Homeland Security Threat Level is currently set to Swirly.
  • Its simply the aurora borealis caused by some escaped gasses from the planet Venus.

    Now go back to sleep.

    • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:43PM (#30380580)

      Ob. Men In Black:

      "The flash of light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus."

    • "Its simply the aurora borealis..."

      [Carla says to Cliff]: You're a roaring borealis.

    • Re:Relax people (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ragzouken (943900) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:37PM (#30381322)

      No other object has been misidentified as a flying saucer more often than the planet Venus.

      Even the former leader of your United States of America, James Earl Carter Jr., thought he saw a UFO once, but it's been proven he only saw the planet Venus.

      Venus was at its peak brilliance last night. You probably thought you saw something up in the sky other than Venus, but I assure you, it was Venus.

      Your scientists have yet to discover how neural networks create self-consciousness, let alone how the human brain processes two-dimensional retinal images into the three-dimensional phenomenon known as perception. Yet you somehow brazenly declare seeing is believing?

      Your scientific illiteracy makes me shudder, and I wouldn't flaunt your ignorance by telling anyone that you saw anything last night other than the planet Venus, because if you do, you're a dead man.

  • Well.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by s0litaire (1205168) * on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:33PM (#30380470)
    ...I for one...
    Welcome our now very dizzy alien overlords...
  • Other explanations (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530)

    Another possible explanation is that the original rocket was a target drone with rocket assisted take off. The light could have been a ground laser engaging the drone. If you've ever seen a test of a large scale laser, you can't really tell if the beam originates on the ground or from the target, if you can see it at all.

    Although a 10 minute kill time challenges that theory. A laser anti-aircraft weapon for engaging targets that conveniently linger over the target area for an extended period of time.

  • by dtolman (688781) <> on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:35PM (#30380492) Homepage

    I got this from the BA forum:

    Blogs / Bad Astronomy
    Terra spots a volcanic plume
    Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway
    submit to reddit

    [UPDATE: See bottom of post; I knew it!]

    Earlier in the morning today (around 8:00 a.m. local time) this weird thing was seen over the skies of Norway:


    My first reaction when I saw that was, "What the FRAK is THAT?!" My second thought was, "Photoshop". But then I saw lots of pictures of this on a bunch of different Norwegian media, so I don't think it's a digital hoax. Then videos started surfacing, like this one, which clearly show the spiral spinning. It's not just a static picture, whatever this thing was; it was really in the sky.

    However, after a moment, I realized this must be a rocket, most likely spiraling out of control. I don't understand all the details -- I don't have all the info yet -- but a rocket fits what we're seeing here. First, this was seen all over Norway, so it must have been at a high altitude to be so visible. Second, the blue spiral angling down to the right is clearly due to perspective. A rocket spiraling around, and coming up from the lower right, would appear to make tight spirals when it was far away and bigger ones as it got closer.

    Third, you can actually see the bright white spiral spinning in the videos. That threw me for a second, to be honest, but after a moment I figured that it makes sense if the rocket is headed more or less straight toward the camera. Whatever it is being lit up (exhaust, or a leaking payload?) would appear to expand in a spiral like water from a spinning sprinklerhead. The spiral itself is not spinning any more than water from the sprinkler is; that's an illusion of motion.

    norway_spiral2Fourth, after a few moments, a black disk appears to expand in the center of the white spiral, as seen in this picture (it's a little fuzzy; you can see the person taking it must have used a long exposure because foreground lights are jittery, but you get the idea). That's exactly what I would expect if whatever is being ejected by the rocket ran out; the arms of the spiral would expand away from the center, leaving black emptiness in the middle.

    So that's my hypothesis. A rocket got out of control, perhaps losing a stabilizer, and started to spiral. The two spirals, different in shape, size, and color, indicate something happened in the middle of all this (the rocket second stage fired while still spinning, or something else started leaking out), changing the rocket's direction. Then, when the fuel or whatever ran out, the white spiral began to disappear from the inside out as the material expanded in space.

    So who launched it? The Russians are a likely guess, but -shocker -- they're denying it. I'd love to know and find out what the details are, but whoever shot it up and whatever the purpose, I'm pretty sure what we're seeing here is a rocket launch that didn't go exactly according to plan.

    Note: there are a lot of stories online about this with more very cool pictures: The Sun and The Daily Mail have it in English, while Norwegian media include VG Nett,,,,, and amazing videos can be seen here and here.

    UPDATE: From Doctor Atlantis I heard of this video which simulates particles being spewed out from a spinning rocket booster. Look familiar?

    Photos: Jan Petter Jørgensen and Morten Kristiansen. Tip o' the payload bay to the many folks who alerted me to this story!

    December 9th, 2009 10:47 AM Tags: Norway, rocket
    by Phil Plait in Antiscience, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures, Skepticism | 58 comments | RSS feed | Trackback >
    58 Responses to "Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway"

    1. 1. Kevin Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 10:53 am

    That reminds me of something we saw waaay back in the late 1980's during a public night at our observatory.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:35PM (#30380494)

    Finally, we've found the entrance...

  • The light you saw in the sky was not a UFO. Swamp gas from a weather balloon was trapped in a thermal pocket and reflected the light from Venus. Everybody knows that!

  • by Vicegrip (82853) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:41PM (#30380550) Journal
    Damnit, apparently the earth is running OSX and somebody has tried to "undo" the last ten years; this has resulted in the spinning beach ball of death.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      earth is running OSX and somebody has tried to "undo" the last ten years...spinning beach ball of death

      The LHC is uninstalling the future.

  • Protonks (AFAIK) are launched out of Baikonur Cosmodrome [], thousands of miles southwest of Norway. I'm unsure how a launch in Kazakhstan would cause a light show in Norway, especially since the insertion into orbit proceeds east of the launch site.
  • Zoomba (Score:3, Funny)

    by Speare (84249) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @03:45PM (#30380606) Homepage Journal
    It's just an experiment that the iRobot corp was conducting, where they cross a Roomba with one of their military devices. Apparently this is related to Bill Gates' theories that hurricanes can be controlled with the proper application of technology. Dean Kamen was not not available for comment on speculation that it was related to a Death Star marketing tie-in for his Luke "Skywalker" prosthetic hand project.
  • Theory #3: A sky-writer pilot was making an "@" for an email address, but passed out.

  • The dateline for the proton-m article is 2005 (which mentions satellite AMC-23), giving a launch date of Dec. 6, 2005. It even successfully launched! []. I'm pretty sure that particular rocket wasn't responsible for the light show.

  • []

    If you've ever seen a rocket launch around sunrise or sunset, this is pretty obviously one of them. It should be a piece of cake to figure out the azimuth of this picture and deduce from where it was launched.

    Case closed. Next...
  • Hey Norway (Score:2, Funny)

    by r00tw00t (999387)
    Ubisoft called it wants its logo back!
  • It was some kids at the local polytechnic having some fun with a laser light-show projector. I saw the video.
  • The explanation is simple. The plucky young upstart warrior (and perhaps the rest of his party) just defeated the final boss using his strongest-ever attack. One involving, say, exploding materia*.

    What everyone saw was just the endgame cutscene for that (at a safe distance, of course).

    * Materia is a Final Fantasy VII term. Substitute your favorite mystical RPG energy thingy here if you like.

  • by mrjb (547783) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:14PM (#30380976)
  • by david.emery (127135) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:25PM (#30381152)

    > - although no one appears to have mentioned UFOs yet

    It's no fun buzzing Earth if there's no panic calling to authorities and calls for investigation of the subsequent coverup.

    Bleezarp (from Alpha Centauri...)

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @04:46PM (#30381442) Homepage

    Those who remember the very good John Wyndham novel "The Day of the Triffids" (later made into a very bad movie) will recall that the population of most of the civilized world is transfixed by a spectacular show of mysterious lights in the sky. The first-person narrator is stuck in a hospital recovering from eye surgery with patches over his eyes and feels frustrated at being left out.

    A few days later it turns out that everyone who saw the lights has gone blind, leaving the narrator one of the few people in the world who can still see.

    The story suggests but never says that it is some space-based weapons system that was accidentally deployed.

    So, when viewing mysterious and spectacular unexplained lighting phenomena in the sky, perhaps it would be prudent to keep one eye closed.

  • by Daswolfen (1277224) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @05:54PM (#30382312)

    It seems he has gotten the aliens to crash on another country besides the UK this holiday season...

  • by 21mhz (443080) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:13PM (#30383168) Journal

    ... about 20 years ago, over Syktyvkar, Russia.
    That was clearly a rocket (I saw rocket launches before, living downrange of Plesetsk), but at some point the thing has "stopped" in the sky and started rolling out a spiral. The rotating object and the spiral quickly faded away, but the gaseous afterglow along the ascent trajectory remained, as it usually does.

  • Rocket gone wild. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Neanderthal Ninny (1153369) on Wednesday December 09, 2009 @07:45PM (#30383456)

    Here is a well documented launch of an Minotaur rocket from Vandenberg AFB in 2005 which has some similarities: []
    As for the spiral in I my opinion, depending on the perspective of the viewer relative to rocket you can see this pattern if you are looking at the exhaust end of the rocket and the rocket started to spin so that exhaust plume started to create a spiral. As the rocket lost total directional control, the rocket controller ordered a self-destruct so the sudden "hole" in the middle of the spiral as the rocket exhaust stops at the end of the event.
    Here is another link about rocket trails with an expert description []

  • Hrmf... (Score:4, Funny)

    by a_nonamiss (743253) on Thursday December 10, 2009 @12:23AM (#30385202)
    I stared at that spinning little ball of light for like 3 minutes before I realized it was just waiting for the video to load.

The University of California Statistics Department; where mean is normal, and deviation standard.