A strange “ghost cloud” visible from the International Space Station and UFO reports on Earth have been linked to a secret trial takeoff of a Russian missile.
The launch, which took place Thursday, was reported on the news discussion forum AboveTopSecret and confirmed by European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.
"The missile's test warhead hit the notional target at the Sary-Shagan test site in Kazakhstan within the set accuracy," Col. Igor Yegorov, the Ministry of Defense spokesman for Strategic Missile Troops told Russia's Interfax-AVN, adding that the launch was “part of the tests of a new warhead."
Parmitano and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins snapped photos of a strange cloud that appeared on Thursday and posted them onto Twitter. NASA, commercial space agencies, Europe and Russia had no announced launches that day, which made the sighting even more unusual, Discovery News reports.
“Saw something launch into space today. Not sure what it was but the cloud it left behind was pretty amazing,” Hopkins tweeted on Oct. 10 along with a photo of an unusual cloud.
Parmitano tweeted a photo of a wiggly white tail, most likely of exhaust and water vapor from the missile’s passage through the Earth’s atmosphere. He later explained the cause, “A missile launch seen from space: an unexpected surprise!”
In Russia, several sightings of the missile launch were captured on video and uploaded to YouTube – many believing it was a UFO.
The Oct. 10 test launch involved a Topol/SS-25 missile, RussianForces.org reports. The Topol missile is new to Russia’s military. It is an intercontinental ballistic missile, meaning it could deliver a nuclear weapon across 6,800 miles, according to Discovery News.
According to a representative of the Rocket Forces, the test was used to confirm characteristics of the Topol missile, to test the systems of the Sary-Shagan test site, and "to test new combat payload for intercontinental ballistic missiles."
While the U.S. government shutdown has stalled NASA programs and experiments and laid off most of its employees, astronauts have taken to personal Twitter accounts to share their space sightings. NASA-run social media accounts like those belonging to the NASA Voyager, the Kennedy Space Center and NASA’s Juno Mission have remained inactive during the now 15-day shutdown.