Update on the Norway Spiral

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Jan. 20 2010 10:00 AM

Update on the Norway Spiral

You may remember how a bizarre spiral of white light lit up the skies of Norway in December, leading conspiracy theorists and anti-reality proponents everywhere to claim it was everything from an alien spaceship to a transdimensional wormhole.

norway_spiral

Advertisement

Saner heads -- like mine -- saw this immediately for what it was: a rocket booster outgassing while spinning. The question I couldn't answer at the time was, was this on purpose (gyroscopic spinning for stabilization) or a booster that malfunctioned and spiralled wildly out of control?

It turns out it was the latter. My friend, the space folklore specialist James Oberg, posted an intriguing article in the IEEE Spectrum discussing how this was yet another in a long series of failed tests of the Russian sea-launched Bulava ICBM. He writes about the checkered history of the program and the massive problems it is still facing.

Of course, despite all the evidence that this was a Russian rocket, expect the comment section below to fill to overflowing with nonsensical talk about it being from HAARP, or Big Pharma, or possibly SkyNet. After all, why let silly things like facts get in the way of good conspiracy theory?

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!