Another spiral "UFO" lights up the sky. And it IS a spaceship.

By Phil Plait | June 12, 2012 6:48 am

Last week, over the Middle East, people were shocked to see a bright fan of light moving across the sky, which suddenly turned into a gigantic glowing spiral! This is not just some uncorroborated eyewitness story; there’s video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iqifhg8NU8A

Pretty cool, huh? People are claiming it’s a spaceship… and they’re right. But it’s not an alien spaceship. It’s from Russia.

This has been positively identified as a Russian rocket booster, a Topol ICBM. In fact, this isn’t even the first time a Topol has been seen doing this! The last one was in December 2009, over Russia itself. And it happened even before then, a day before, over Norway, when a ginormous spiral lit up the sky and freaked the hell out of people (and the Internet). A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster did the same thing over Australia in June 2010, for that matter.

Basically, the booster is in space, where there’s very little or no air. It’s either leaking or blowing out fuel, which causes the booster to spin, and you get that amazing spiral water-sprinkler effect. I explain the whole thing in the Norway Spiral post.

That of course has not stopped the conspiracy theorists saying this is everything from a UFO to an interdimensional vortex. Ideas as breathless as they are silly popped up immediately. The truth is actually somewhat more mundane, but for a lot of people, that won’t even slow them down… and they’ll be all over the next one when this happens. That’s a conspiracy theory you can bank on.


Related Posts:

Awesomely bizarre light show freaks out Norway
Another Russian rocket spiral lights up the sky
Oh, those Falcon UFOs!
Followup: Falcon 9 spiral light video

Comments (53)

  1. As soon as I saw that video, I knew what it was. Mostly because of your reporting here. :)

  2. Yeti D

    It’s the other Asgardians coming to give me my hammer and take me home…

  3. ParanoidLoon

    Ah, but you’re just part of the conspiracy etc etc…

  4. Some people, using a classic anti-occam razor are talking about “hyperspace portals”. That´s stupid, one does not jumps to hyperspace from inside an atmosphere, UNLESS performing the Adama Manouvre.

  5. Ed

    M31’s arrived a bit earlier than expected, perhaps?

  6. Chris

    Someone call the Avergers! Loki is back :-D

  7. Jess Tauber

    I for one welcome our new spirally cosmic overlords from the Curly-Q-Continuum! Jean-Luc, beware, Nyuk Nyuk! Oh, a wise guy, why I’ll….

  8. vel

    Adama manuever? I beg to differ, Captain John Sheridan did it long before ;)

  9. Mejilan

    Sorry Phil, but both you and most of the conspiracy theorists are wrong.
    This is clearly not a spinning booster, inter-dimensional wormhole, or an alien spacecraft;
    but an alien spacecraft emerging from an inter-dimensional wormhole and launching a booster-like doomsday weapon that slow spins around as it expels its death essence into our midsts.

    See you all in the next life… err, dimension.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    @2. cardoso :

    Some people, using a classic anti-occam razor are talking about “hyperspace portals”. That´s stupid, one does not jumps to hyperspace from inside an atmosphere, UNLESS performing the Adama Manouvre.

    Well, OTOH, the White Star ships were able to exit from hyperspace into the Martian atmosphere to liberate that planet from Clark’s tyranny in Babylon-5 -although they did have help from the ground!

    EDIT : Now I see that vel (#6) has beaten me to it.. got to be quick. Sigh.

    @3. Ed : “M31′s arrived a bit earlier than expected, perhaps?”

    A bit!? :-o

    Also its spinning a bit quicker than expected too – at that rate of galactic rotation I’m pretty sure its outer spiral arm stars would somehow be violating Einstein’s ultimate speed limit! ;-)

    (Also its been concluded Andromeda is actually a ring galaxy seen edge on hasn’t it?)

  11. mc

    Phil,
    anyone who thinks alien space craft haven’t been here is afraid of the truth.
    Goodbye expert Phil.

  12. Amazing to see another spiral from one of these failed missile tests. The images are so striking. I did a write up on my blog about the Norway spiral a few years ago (“The Norway Spiral and the Difference Between Fiction, Lies, and Truth”) making some of the same points you make here, and a few others. Critical thinking is a skill we need to teach well and often.
    http://www.onewritersmind.blogspot.com/2009/12/norway-spiral-and-difference-between.html

  13. genohex

    @8

    Actually well before the whole Mars liberation Sheridan took the White Star to Mars and jumped to hyperspace from within Jupiter’s lovely deathy type clouds.

    Also I am jealous of everyone who got to witness the lovely spirals, all I ever see in southern Nevada are droopy shiny streaks that look like a kid got into their moms pearlescent nail polish
    =/

  14. @ #8 vel:

    Adama manuever? I beg to differ, Captain John Sheridan did it long before ;)

    Except the Adama manuver happened somewhere around or before 200,000 BCE, and the Sheridan maneuver happened around 2260 ACE. ;)

  15. Lars

    Some people, using a classic anti-occam razor are talking about “hyperspace portals”. That´s stupid, one does not jumps to hyperspace from inside an atmosphere, UNLESS performing the Adama Manouvre.

    You obviously haven’t played enough Frontier: Elite II. The trout is out there.

    anyone who thinks alien space craft haven’t been here is afraid of the truth.
    Goodbye expert Phil.

    *pats on head*
    It’s Dr. Plait to you, little friend. And it’s only natural to be afraid of the trout. It bites! (And ichthyophobia is no laughing matter anyway.) Just remember: Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

  16. Marina Stern

    Site-specific art, obviously. Spiral Jetty in Space.

  17. Eric TF Bat

    Chronologically speaking, Admiral Adama did it 150,000 years earlier, but the whole Golgafrincham “twist” ending to BSG makes my head hurt so I prefer to ignore it.

  18. Daniel J. Andrews

    I think every camera manual should include a section on how to hold it steady while shooting videos AND why you shouldn’t subject other people to your jumpy videos if you don’t know how to hold a camera steady. Bigfoot could walk through suburbia on a sunny Sunday afternoon and chances are no-one would get a clear video of him.

    This one wasn’t that bad comparatively speaking though, but this has become a pet peeve of mine in the last two years where I’ve had to rely on someone else to take video of something for work-related purposes only to find it is nearly unviewable–yet rather inexplicably they’re happy with it and show it to everyone. Perhaps they’re happy with it because they too see many jumpy videos and think that is the norm (which maybe it is esp with some movies employing the same hand-held jumpy techniques).

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Daniel J. Andrews : Yeah, that Blair Witch project movie and its copycat film “school” has a lot to answer for. :roll:

    Mind you, jumpy unclear footage has long been a tradition for UFO videos. ;-)

    @ 10.

    (Also its been concluded Andromeda is actually a ring galaxy seen edge on hasn’t it?)

    See :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/05/18/andromedas-majestic-spray-of-billions-of-hot-stars/

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/05/a-swift-view-of-andromeda/

    for why I think we’ve kinda concluded that.

    Plus see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2012/05/31/hold-on-tight-in-4-billion-years-were-due-for-a-galactic-collision/

    For the upcoming galactic merger details. Four billion is a lot of years to arrive early! ;-)

    @11. mc :

    Phil, anyone who thinks alien space craft haven’t been here is afraid of the truth. Goodbye expert Phil.

    So what is your evidence for alien spacecraft coming here? I take it since you’ve made a comment that appears to be an firmly imply that that you think there’s good reason to believe we have been visited by aliens that you do have good reasons to think so – but what are they?

    Why do you think this and what arguments or better evidence do you have to support your view? You haven’t put forward anything of the sort in your comment however.

    I don’t think the Bad Astronomer is afraid of the truth. I’m certainly not.

    If we have been visited by ET(s?) then that would be amazing – but why do you think we have?

    Not this case of a specifically identified rocket and known phenomenon (is the plural form ~ ~non or ~na, I’ve forgotten durnnit! ) surely!

  20. Zathras

    #8 vel and #10 Messier Tidy Upper:
    Yes, yes, Zathras saw whole thing with Drall from the Great Machine on Epsilon 3….. ;-)

  21. Chris

    Occam’s razor says”other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.”
    Interdimensional vortex: simple.
    Rocket booster leaking fuel, causing it to spin and look like a sprinkler: complex.

  22. Small nitpick with the title (yeah, I know Im too pedantic, *shug*) – this isn’t a UFO but an IFO given it has been positively identified as noted in the Opening Post. ;-)

    @11. mc & other believers in the UFOs = flying alien spacecraft idea

    I strongly suggest you read and contemplate :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/03/06/why-i-dont-believe-in-ufos-the-phoenix-lights/

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/06/25/ufollowup/

    &

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2008/11/25/aliens-yes-ufos-no/

    or see some of the many other blog posts he’s written over the years on this issue.

    In addition, I’d very highly recommend reading David Brin’s excellent short story ‘Those Eyes’ which makes some very key points in a very entertaining and readable way and, I think, contains some killer arguments. It’s linked to my name for this comment. Please, go read it and think about it. Seriously.

    The BA ain’t afraid o’ no ghosts UFOs! ;-)

    @20. Zathras : Zathras do good work! :-)

  23. @Chris, that’s not really a good definition. Occam’s razor is about avoiding too many assumptions or unknown conditions. An inter-dimensional vortex, for example, requires a whole bunch of conditions (inter-dimensional vortexs being possible is one, some being with the technology to create one is another, etc.). All of the conditions required for the rocket booster are known to be true (existence of rockets, leaky o-rings, thrust, etc).

  24. icewings

    I’m amazed that this was taken over the Middle East yet the people making the video were not TOTALLY FREAKING OUT thinking it was a nuke or some-such other apocalyptic weapon coming at them.

  25. Charles

    I’m sorry, but Captain Henry J. Gloval beat both Adama and Sheridan by several decades.

    Charles.

  26. Other Paul

    I. Love. This. And it’s youtuber so I can actually play it!

  27. Calli Arcale

    Cat: “Is that what I think it is?”
    Lister: “What?”
    Cat: “A giant swirly thing in space!”

  28. I love how many sci-fi nerds there are here. I feel like I’ve finally found my true home :D

    Question, though: Why does Russia keep using these things if they keep failing so spectacularly? Does the pretty spiral make it all worth it?

    Or do they only start spinning after their upper stages have gone off, so no one cares? You can’t see anything that looks like an upper stage going off in the video, though…

  29. @26 icewings: I’m amazed that this was taken over the Middle East yet the people making the video were not TOTALLY FREAKING OUT thinking it was a nuke or some-such other apocalyptic weapon coming at them.

    Nah, people in the Middle East are the original ufologists. Look how many major religions started there, and how many of them involve lights in the sky (all of them) :D

  30. @22 Chris, 23 MTU: Doncha know? Occam’s Razor is so last millennium. Now it’s all about the History Channel Conjecture :D

  31. Doug Troy

    Space Hurricanes. It was bound it happen. Fortunately for me, I just bought Space Hurricane insurance through the Tin Foil Home Owners Protection company, so my home is protected from the damaging winds and rains caused by Space Hurricanes.

  32. ellindsey

    Notice that the rocket seems to be flying straight, with what appears to be a single point in the back that is emitting light and gas. Then a burst of gas appears going ‘forward’, in the direction of travel. The object then spins and fairly quickly goes out.

    I suspect that what we are seeing is a thrust termination system activating at the end of the third stage. The Topol is a three-stage solid fueled ICBM. Shutting off thrust at the right moment is critical for targeting, but you can’t shut off a solid fuel rocket like you can a liquid one. Instead, the last stage of the solid rocket has ports which blow open on the front, stopping the thrust and also sometimes causing the stage to tumble. That’s probably what we’re seeing here – not a failure, but a normal termination of thrust.

  33. Dr.Sid

    Yeah .. they are surprisingly calm. Just a few Allah Akbar .. but that is basically OMG.

  34. Darth Robo

    Actually I have it on good authority that these are dimensional portals opened by the archangel Metatron.

    Srsly.

  35. Gonzo

    I don’t comment much anymore, but I am always here.

    I just wanted to say:

    I love living in a future where spiraly aftertrails of OUR spaceships hover above, to make the UFOniks think that we are be visited.

    I love, love, love it.

    Just sayin’

    Love ya Phil.

  36. Messier Tidy Upper

    @32. Joseph G :

    @22 Chris, 23 MTU: Doncha know? Occam’s Razor is so last millennium. Now it’s all about the History Channel Conjecture.

    Conjecture is putting it politely! ;-)

    See for instance this via PZ’s blog :

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/06/10/the-wages-of-pseudoscience/

    where one pay TV channel screened an apparently serious “doco” on mermaids! Mermaids for pity’s sake. Aaarrrggh! :-(

    @27. Charles : “I’m sorry, but Captain Henry J. Gloval beat both Adama and Sheridan by several decades.”

    Who from what? Never heard of that one, sorry.

    @14. genohex :

    @8. Actually well before the whole Mars liberation Sheridan took the White Star to Mars and jumped to hyperspace from within Jupiter’s lovely deathy type clouds.

    Of course! How could I forget! Love that episode with the Shadow ship from Ganymede base diving to destruction in the Jovian clouds. One of the best in my all-time fave SF TV series. You’re quite right – great catch. 8)

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Oh, goody, a conspiracy nut asking for a metaphorical kicking . . .

    MC (11) said:

    Phil,
    anyone who thinks alien space craft haven’t been here is afraid of the truth.
    Goodbye expert Phil.

    First off, no-one has ever claimed that alien spacecraft visitations are impossible, nor that they have never happened.

    Second, what is claimed by most rational people who care to look into the phenomenon is (inter alia):
    1. There is no credible evidence that alien spaceships have ever visited Earth;
    2. There is no plausible hypothetical scenario whereby alien spaceships might have visited Earth (and, no, claiming that they have “advanced technology” to make interstellar travel easy is not any different from saying they came here on magic carpets with the assistance of the wormhole fairy – it still abrogates responsibility for coming up with a plausible scenario);
    3. Evidence from SETI strongly suggests that there are no nearby alien civilisations;
    4. Logic dictates that we not assume the existence of an ET technological civilisation without a comeplling reason to do so (for which see 1 above);
    5. Since the barriers to interstellar travel are significant, reason indicates that any alien civilisation that does successfully visit would make themselves known unless there is a compelling reason for them to remain covert. Currently, we know of no such reason;
    6. No UFO report has ever credibly been shown to be an alien spaceship, yet the claims persist.

    In short, show us the evidence. If you ain’t got some pretty darn good evidence, then the conclusion that UFOs = alien spaceships is indefensible.

  38. Venture Free

    If you were trying to cover up the appearance of an alien space craft or an inter-dimensional vortex the first thing you would do is concoct a plausible but mundane explanation for what everyone saw. Therefore the fact that you have given a plausible but mundane explanation is PROOF that it is neither plausible nor mundane. Aha! See? You can’t argue with logic like that. A HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAA!

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Chris (22) said:

    Occam’s razor says”other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.”
    Interdimensional vortex: simple.
    Rocket booster leaking fuel, causing it to spin and look like a sprinkler: complex.

    Maybe to you, but:

    Interdimensional vortex = not known to be possible;
    Rocket booster leaking fuel = known phenomenon, known to occur reasonably frequently, known to generate the kind of images seen here, with known and quantifiable dynamic behaviour.

  40. Clearly, a jumbo sized Magic Hyp-no-Disc from the Johnson-Smith catalog.

  41. @34 ellindsey: I suspect that what we are seeing is a thrust termination system activating at the end of the third stage. The Topol is a three-stage solid fueled ICBM. Shutting off thrust at the right moment is critical for targeting, but you can’t shut off a solid fuel rocket like you can a liquid one. Instead, the last stage of the solid rocket has ports which blow open on the front, stopping the thrust and also sometimes causing the stage to tumble. That’s probably what we’re seeing here – not a failure, but a normal termination of thrust.

    Cool! Thanks for the explanation (and answer to my question of why they’d repeatedly use such a wacky pinwheel rocket in the first place) :)

    @39 MTU: Conjecture is putting it politely!
    “History Channel Bull****” didn’t have the same ring to it :)

    It really is sad, though. The History Channel used to have some fantastic science programs. One that I really enjoyed was called “How the Earth was Made.” It’s about the changes the Earth saw, from its start as a molten lump of aggregated bolides to the present day and beyond.

    One thing I really liked about it is that it doesn’t just spout facts at you – it looks at the history of various scientist’s hypotheses for things like plate tectonics or the oxygen catastrophe, and the evidence that eventually was discovered for these things, with periodic brief “reviews” of said evidence. It really gives you a sense of the detective work involved in science, and HOW all these factoids got into the textbooks in the first place. It’s one of the few science series I’ve ever seen to do this.

    See for instance this via PZ’s blog :
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/06/10/the-wages-of-pseudoscience/
    where one pay TV channel screened an apparently serious “doco” on mermaids! Mermaids for pity’s sake. Aaarrrggh!

    By your reaction I’m assuming they didn’t just introduce the viewer to manatees and conclude with “case closed”?

  42. CB

    Interdimensional vortex = not known to be possible;

    Even if we imagine that it was possible, I have a very hard time believing that creating one would be simpler than creating a rocket.

  43. @45. Joseph G :

    By your reaction I’m assuming they didn’t just introduce the viewer to manatees and conclude with “case closed”?

    Sadly, no.

    The “doco” is in the linked article if you’re curious – bad fiction passed off without (english anyhow) disclaimer as fact. :-(

    It really is sad, though. The History Channel used to have some fantastic science programs. One that I really enjoyed was called “How the Earth was Made.” It’s about the changes the Earth saw, from its start as a molten lump of aggregated bolides to the present day and beyond.

    Think I might’ve seen that one or one like it. Love to see genuinely good docos like those – guess we can always hope they screen it as a repeat now and then. It is also be available for viewing via Youtube – click on my name here. One area where youtube is really good. :-)

    ———————

    PS. Is it me tempting fate here or is there actually a surprising derth of Flying Crockery believers commenting these days – just a couple at least on this thread versus many, many more on the previous UFO related ones? I thought we might be flooded with them here but not so far. A hopeful sign perhaps? Or famous last words? :-)

  44. technically Captain John Sheridan did the atmospheric hyperspace jump (FTL) in the year – circa – 2260ish… where as Admiral Bill Adama made the maneuver in -148,000, but I should not give to much away as the An’la shock fund only could use 90’s tech vs. the ’00 tech in BSG – which was very retro, BTW.

    Clearly this was John Critchon performing his mini “shuttle” tests… we know the real shuttles will never be retired!!! Where he warps into a Peace Keeper fight and kills the commanders (captains?) brother, because clearly the brother is insane. Then it gets better!

  45. @47 MTU: It is also be available for viewing via Youtube – click on my name here. One area where youtube is really good.

    Great find! And in HD too! I just might watch it again when there’s nothing decent on TV (I shouldn’t have to wait long). Actually, I think they made a couple seasons’ worth of episodes (that I don’t think were all aired here) after that big pilot. I’ll bet they’re on there too.

    PS. Is it me tempting fate here or is there actually a surprising derth of Flying Crockery believers commenting these days – just a couple at least on this thread versus many, many more on the previous UFO related ones? I thought we might be flooded with them here but not so far. A hopeful sign perhaps? Or famous last words?

    Eh, I think perhaps the credible just have “flying saucer fatigue”? I remember when I was young; and I was still very much into UFOs, alien abductions, conspiracies, etc etc; coming across a book on UFOs (again, a subject I was interested in) and thinking “Great. Another one! I’ll bet it’s got all the favorites – Aurora, Texas; the “Battle of Los Angeles,” Roswell, NM; Thomas Mantell, ’52 Washington, DC; Betty and Barney hill, Shag Harbor, Gulf Breeze, the Rendlesham forest incident, yadda yadda. Yawn.” I think it’s the first time it really occurred to me that there must not be that much “there” there, if all the books I could find kept repeating the same old stuff over and over. Considering the number of self-described UFO “researchers”, it sure started to seem like they really weren’t turning out a whole lot of new research.
    Perhaps belief in an alien cover-up is self-limiting? The more you read about it, the less new stuff you find and the more boring it becomes?

  46. whlhousejocky

    Is there a leak or is someone showering in the backgrown?

  47. Ron Sharp

    Since it was Russians, maybe they were pulling a Crazy Ivan?

  48. A prediction that “In six the spiral will cause a fright” was published in 2003 in Mother Shipton:the missing Prophecies by Austin & Yule, Black Rabbit Press, in verse IV:37. The prediction was written in 1990. The first known spiral was seen in Russia in 2006 as predicted. Can you predict what will be seen in the sky 16 years hence, ie 2028? I think not. More spirals were seen in Norway in 2011, Russia in 2009, and Australia in 2010. Don’t ask me what they are, except some say they are produced by leaking fuel from booster tanks.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »