Mysterious light spirals over Norway, and 100 years of weird stuff in the sky

Photo courtesy Gizmodo's Norway Spiral Anomaly gallery

As you've all probably read by now, Norway recently experienced a bit of an aerial dizzy spell that couldn't be chalked up to Hessdalen will-o'the-wisps. Last Tuesday, a giant spiral of light filled the Scandinavian skies, causing people to (understandably) freak the fuck out. Was it a widespread epidemic of vertigo? Would we all become violently obsessed with spirals, to the point of clawing out our cochleas? Were the Strangers tuning? Was Santa opening his wormhole?

Such were the conclusions we immediately leapt to, until some astronomers and Russian Defense Ministry officials burst our bubbles with the assurance that it was just an intercontinental ballistic missile (codenamed "Bulava") gone haywire. Boy, are we ever relieved. Here's a video, courtesy Gizmodo, offering an explanation for the spiral pattern:

This might be one of the coolest-looking military-created whoopsies we've seen in a while, but it's by no means the first. We submit to you a brief (and no doubt very incomplete) rundown of the last century's Unidentified Federally-funded Objects ... and other bizarre phenomena we couldn't resist writing about:

The Tunguska event

1908: The Tunguska event. Ten minutes after Siberia dwellers witnessed a pipe-shaped "column of bluish light" as bright as a "second sun" scooting across the sky, an explosion a thousand times as powerful as Hiroshima rocked Russia, only to go virtually unexamined until the 1920s. Conventional wisdom holds that this was a natural event caused by a meteoroid or comet (of course, other crackpot theories abound), but we'd probably know a hell of a lot more about the Tunguska explosion sooner if there hadn't been so much pesky political upheaval or if the Soviet government hadn't been clutching their scientific data so tight during the Cold War.

The Vought Flying Flapjack

1934: Disc-shaped aircraft. Miami University of Ohio develops the Roundwing aircraft, also known as the Nemeth Umbrellaplane or "Flying Saucer." By the time WWII rolled around, the US military started prototyping their own flying saucers, perhaps most notably the Vought Flying Flapjack. Turns out, the design wasn't terribly aerodynamic, so they scrapped it ... but not before spooking a few Long Island Sound beachgoers in 1947 -- one more splash in that year's "UFO Wave." (And even though it's more conceptual than anything, for sheer awesomeness points, you can't beat Alexander Weygers's Discopter, patented in 1943.)

The Battle of Los Angeles

1942: The Battle of Los Angeles. Less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, strange light blobs prompted California to launch a massive anti-aircraft artillery barrage against the threat, fearing it to be another Japanese raid. Later, however, the blobs were largely deemed nothing more than a case of "war nerves." The military offered a few contradictory statements; the true nature of the incident remains unknown. (Early balloon bombs, maybe?)

Richard A. Muller explains Project Mogul and its ties to Roswell

1947: The Roswell incident. OK, sure, there's no hoarier UFO cliche than Roswell, but we bet that -- unless you're a card-carrying MUFON member -- you could use a refresher on the details. Quick recap: In 1947, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release (!) stating that they'd recovered a "flying disk" that supposedly crash-landed onto a nearby ranch. Cue media frenzy. The Air Force countered by making soothing noises about weather balloons, and the incident was all but forgotten until 1978. That's when former nuclear physicist and ufologist Stanton T. Friedman interviewed Jesse Marcel, an intelligence officer who'd apparently recovered the "shiny" wreckage (described as "pieces of rubber, super-resistant tinfoil, wooden sticks, and what appeared to be I-beams of metallic-looking material") and decried the weather balloon story as a bogus cover-up. And from there, surely aided in no small part by post-Watergate anti-government paranoia, the story became the paranormal-research juggernaut we know today. In 1994, 50 years after the incident (and right when The X-Files was hitting its stride), the Air Force published a report concluding that the Roswell findings were debris from a flamed-out high-altitude-balloon launched as part of the top-secret Project Mogul.

Jimmy Carter describes his UFO sighting

1969: Jimmy Carter sees a UFO. Or maybe it was the planet Venus. Oh, Jimmy.

The Phoenix Lights

1997: The Phoenix Lights. It all started with a V-shaped light about the "size of a (Boeing) 747," according to one eyewitness, starting in Nevada and hurtling toward Arizona. Since then, there have been other UFO-ish phenomena in the area, including one notable incident in 2007, which at least one Air Force official confirmed to be a Barry Goldwater Range training exercise that involved dropping flares from planes to light up targets below. (Actually, 2007 yielded a bumper crop of these sightings. Nostalgia for the MIB-happpy '90s, perhaps.)

Fox News on the Stephenville Sightings

2008: The Stephenville sightings. In January of 2008, initially dozens -- and later, hundreds -- of Texas residents reported UFOs. Descriptions varied wildly, from discs to flying V's to airborne objects the size of a football field. After a bit of hemming and hawing, the Air Force eventually took credit for the phenomena, blaming F-16 fighter jet maneuvers for the disturbance.
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