Image: Spiral
Dagfinn Rapp via Space.com
Norwegians had front-row seats for a bizarre light show: a giant spiral with a green-blue streak trailing down to the horizon.
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updated 12/10/2009 7:12:50 PM ET 2009-12-11T00:12:50

A spectacular spiral light show in the sky above Norway on Wednesday was caused by a Russian missile that failed just after launch, according to Russia's defense ministry.

When the rocket motor spun out of control, it likely created the heavenly spiral of white light near where the missile was launched from a submarine in the White Sea.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that a Bulava ballistic missile test had failed.

"It has been established ... that the missile's first two stages worked as normal, but there was a technical malfunction at the next, third, stage of the trajectory," Reuters quoted a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying.

Paal Brekke, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Space Centre Drammensvn, told Space.com that the cloud was "very spectacular."

"When we looked at the videos people submitted to the media, we quickly concluded that it looked like a rocket or missile out of control, thus the spiraling effect," Brekke said. "I think this is the first time we have seen such a display from a launch failure."

The phenomenon was seen by people all over northern Norway.

"It was a fairly stunning display, and we were really surprised to see it so well-observed," Brekke said.

Viewers described an eerie white cloud with a piercing blue-green beam coming out of it.

6 real-life 'X-Files'"It consisted initially of a green beam of light similar in color to the aurora with a mysterious rotating spiral at one end," Nick Banbury of Harstad, Norway, told Spaceweather.com. "This spiral then got bigger and bigger until it turned into a huge halo in the sky with the green beam extending down to Earth."

Banbury said he saw the lights on his way to work between 7:50 and 8 a.m. local time, or 1:50 to 2 a.m. ET Wednesday.

"We are used to seeing lots of auroras here in Norway, but this was different," he said.

Before the missile test was confirmed, many people suggested the bright light pattern might have been a UFO. Russia finally admitted to the accident, which is an embarrassing mishap for a rocket that had already failed six of 13 previous tests, according to the BBC.

The Bulava missile is designed to carry six individually targeted nuclear warheads over a range of up to 6,200 miles (10,000 km), the BBC reported. The missile had been touted as Russia's newest technological breakthrough to support its nuclear deterrent, but the numerous failures have led to second thoughts.

"This is a catastrophe ... Huge funds were siphoned off from Russia's moribund navy for the Bulava project. In fact, billions of dollars have been flushed down the drain," Alexander Khramchikhin, chief analyst at the Moscow-based Institute of Military and Political Analysis, told Reuters.

Analysts criticize Moscow's hurry to build the Bulava, as it already has a highly reliable Soviet-built Sineva submarine-based ballistic missile. They also question awarding the Bulava contract to the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, which has never before built missiles for submarines.

This report was supplemented with information from Reuters.

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Video: Russians come clean on UFO sighting

  1. Closed captioning of: Russians come clean on UFO sighting

    >>> without limits.

    >>> first time we can remember norway has been the subject of two stories in the broadcast. it's in the news for a second straight night because of something that happened in the skies over that country that started a lot of rumors and rattled a lot of people. it was an incredible sight. some of us thought it was a creative person with a very powerful laser. others thought ufo. still others zeroed in on the so-called russian missile theory. our own tom costello tonight has the result of his investigation.

    >> reporter: as ufo sightings go, this one was as good or as weird as it gets.

    >> translator: it started out as a very small light, but grew into a large circle in the sky that seemed to disappear into a black hole .

    >> reporter: that strange blue spiral light in the skies over norway had to be an alien landing or a worm hole to a distant galaxy. or it could be the russians.

    >> translator: we think it might have been a missile launched from a surface ship or sub in the north somewhere.

    >> reporter: a russian military sent out this notice several days ago warning of a rocket launch and to stay away from the white sea . that explains it, says nbc space analyst jim oberg .

    >> somewhere in this bizarre event are the first and second stages firing.

    >> reporter: now russia admits their rocket failed its test thursday, a huge embarrassment. that hasn't stopped the alien-hunters clogging of the blogosphere. we humans love this stuff. ufos have been a part of pop culture nearly a hundred years. at the university of colorado 's fisk planetarium, professor doug duncan has been looking his whole career for aliens, but hasn't found it.

    >> i think it's cross-cultural. everything is fascinated, are we alone?

    >> reporter: the soviet union used to help continue the fascination by covering up secret military activities.

    >> those reports were very important to western intelligence agencies which had every bisque interested in soviet ufo stories.

    >> reporter: ufos, spice and secret submarines, the makings of another great blockbuster. tom costello, nbc news, washington.

    >>> when we come back, back

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