Mystery Explosion Over Sverdlovsk

I am intrigued by dashcam footage showing a huge flash of light in the night sky near Ekaterinburg in Russia’s Sverdlosvk region. The video was reportedly taken on November 14 and made its way to Russian TV. Since then, others eyewitness reports have come in.

Perhaps the most likely cause would be a meteor similar to the Chelyabinsk event of February 2013. Except – this one looked very different. See for yourself:

Very strange. This reminds me of images and footage of the high-altude nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. and Soviets in the late 1950s and early 1960s.


The Starfish Prime shot, July 9, 1962. Yield: 1.4 Mt. Detonation altitude: 400 km.

If I counted correctly, there were 17 high altitude detonations (and 4 failures), ranging from just over 1 kiloton to 1.4 megatons, at altitudes between 23 and 540 km.  The results were partially unexpected but scientifically most fascinating. Many details are kept secret until today.

The era of these tests did not last long. The Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was expanded by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which banned the stationing and use of nuclear weapons in space. Effective today, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996 prohibits signatories from detonating any kind of nuclear device – although ratification and compliance remains a problem.

Given the current political tensions between Russia, the U.S. and Europe – would any nation capable of doing so dare to violate the treaties? Without doubt, some aspects of such tests would be scientifically enticing, but there are rather unattractive radiological side effects. And, the political fallout would be as bad or worse than the radioactive kind.

At some point, Russia might begin to argue that the earlier treaties no longer apply, because they were entered into by its predecessor the Soviet Union. But at least, Russia has signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996 and ratified it in 2000, whereas the U.S. only signed in 1996, but failed to ratify until today.

And then there are the technological risks. The tests 5 decades ago fried several satellites with radiation and created artificial radiation belts with astounding staying power. Electromagnetic pulses disrupted ground installations and caused quite a bit of damage. Today, we have thousands of satellites and a manned space station in orbit, so the effects of a nuclear detonation could be a lot more severe.

All this leads me to hypothesize that if the Ekaterinburg-event was indeed a secret weapons test of some sort, it would have been something entirely new and exotic, and most likely non-nuclear. On the other hand, the “meteorite” explanation does not satisfy my curiosity either.

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Journalist and media professional currently based in Los Angeles, California. Focusing on science and technology.