Norway’s Spiral in the Sky

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
09 DC 0200 TO 0900 10 DEC 0100 TO 0900
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

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.

Great Moments in Bat Science

Space Shuttle Discovery was launched this Sunday. If you look at a picture of liftoff, there appears to be something on the side of the external fuel tank.


Upon closer inspection, we find the most adventurous bat in the history of bats.


All photo evidence so far indicates that he clung on during liftoff and the ascent above the Kennedy Space Center. I like to think he sacrificed himself for the advancement of bat science.

High Definition Science

I’ve found that the content that really shows off the HDTV format is that of the natural world. While sitcoms might be a bit more clear, the format really shines in situations where the extra detail is actually relevant, like in documentaries such as Planet Earth.

Here’s some of the best free high-definition content I’ve found on the web, if you know of any more please let me know!


Gravitas is a project by John Dubinski of the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. He works on visualization of galaxy dynamics, and his goal is to “use supercomputer simulations of realistic model galaxies to illustrate these slow and majestic dynamical processes on an accessible timescale and so breathe life into the iconic images of galaxies created by the world’s great telescopes”. He succeeds brilliantly, and has produced a set of captivating animations, some in HD.

Download Future Sky (Quicktime 720p) and Spiral Metamorphosis (Quicktime 1080p).

Fractal Zooms

Eric Bigas has a great website with several fractal animations, including a few in HD.

Cherry Blossom Hexagons is a zoom into a Barnsley fractal, available in 720p XviD or 720p H.264.

19th Hole Terraces is a zoom into a Mandlebrot set, available in 720p XviD or 720p H.264.

Copperplate Chevrons is available in 720p XviD.

Hubble Space Telescope

The European Homepage for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has tons of great HD content. Dr. Joe Liske at the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere hosts a video podcast which you can subscribe to in 720p or full HD 1080p. They also have a HD video archive of broadcast quality footage, like this flythrough of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

For other HD space videos, NASA has a HD video archive with a section dedicated to Hubble. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has an HD archive of their own, click “HD” at the bottom to browse.