May 5, 2011 at 8:24 PM ET
They predicted that a UFO would appear in the skies over Russia on Wednesday night — and sure enough, they were right. In this case, however, "they" weren't flying-saucer fans or doomsday soothsayers, but rather military space experts who knew that the scheduled launch of Russia's Meridian 4 military communication satellite would put on a show.
The Soyuz rocket's successful liftoff from northern Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome was followed by the separation of strap-on boosters and the Fregat upper stage, producing the magnificent light show you can see in the Russia Today video above. In another YouTube video, observers marvel at the scene and ask "What's that!?" (in Russian). More videos can be seen here, and here, and especially here. Don't miss this sequence of images tracing each step of the ascent.
It's reminiscent of the UFO flap that followed the sighting of a bright spiral in the skies over Norway in December 2009. In that case, it took a day or two for the Russians to acknowledge that the display was caused by the failure of a submarine-based missile launch. This time, everyone knew it was coming ... and still it was a marvelous, mysterious sight.
Update for 4:30 p.m. ET May 6: Here's a huge tip o' the Log to NBC News space analyst James Oberg, who totally predicted this week's Russian UFO reports. In an email, Oberg explains why such reports are important:
"The value of rocket/space pseudo-UFOs is not that they 'solve' a set percentage of reports, but that they provide unique 'control experiments' in unambiguously calibrating eyewitness perceptions compared to what we know the visual apparition actually looked like, since there's no longer any doubt what the witnesses were looking at in these cases, from which they generated their later descriptions. The lessons that this category of reports can teach ufology could be paradigm-overturning, but as far as I can tell, even serious students of the phenomenon don't want to pursue this line of investigation, perhaps out of concern over the implications of the likely conclusions on the reliability of other reports."
More about UFO sightings: