Early yesterday morning, citizens in the town of Tromsø, Norway awoke to an amazing sight – a giant glowing spiral, taking up a huge portion of the night sky.
Thousands of people reported seeing it, and amateur pictures and video of the event quickly spread across the internet. What could this be? A prank using some powerful projector? Some military experiment? An intergalactic portal?
One plausible explanation was that it was a rocket, damaged during or early after launch. But where did the rocket come from? One report indicated that it was a RSM-56 Bulava submarine launched ballistic missle, which is currently undergoing testing and development. The notoriously unpredictable missle design experienced an issue when the third stage fired, and it began to spray fuel and spiral out of control.
So it this reasonable? Well, a video has appeared on YouTube with a particle simulation of the fuel dispersal due to a spinning third stage – judge for yourself!
Personally I think the explanation of dual jets off a spinning rocket stage fits the facts and is the simplest explanation. Additionally, a NAVTEX rocket launch warning was issued for an area in the White Sea.
031230 UTC DEC 09
COASTAL WARNING ARKHANGELSK 94
SOUTHERN PART WHITE SEA
1.ROCKET LAUNCHING 2300 07 DEC TO 0600 08 DEC
09 DC 0200 TO 0900 10 DEC 0100 TO 0900
NAVIGATION PROHIBITED IN AREA
65-12.6N 036-37.0E 65-37.2N 036-26.0E
66-12.3N 037-19.0E 66-04.0N 037-47.0E
66-03.0N 038-38.0E 66-06.5N 038-55.0E
65-11.0N 037-28.0E 65-12.1N 036-49.5E
THEN COASTAL LINE 65-12.2N 036-47.6E
2. CANCEL THIS MESSAGE 101000 DEC=
Tromsø is marked by a green house and the White Sea is marked as the blue anchor on the following map.
This location for the submarine makes sense for a northbound launch (launching it south into continental Europe would be a bit politically insensitive), and would correlate with a breakup later in flight visible from northern Norway. If, however, this is a prelude to the gates of hell opening up, feel free at that time to email me and gloat.