James Oberg at IEEE Spectrum has been following the "disaster-ridden" Russian missile program that lead to last month's spectacular spiral lights display over Norway. He offers some insight into the fascinating political story going on behind the scenes.
Designed to be the next-generation submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Bulava has had 11 test flights since 2005--and has failed most of them, including the last three in a row. ... Beyond the threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent, the problems with the missile have become a major scandal for the Putin/Medvedev government. Hard-line Communist Party critics accuse them of letting the entire Russian military industrial complex decay to the point of danger.
IEEE Spectrum: Russia's Ailing ICBM Program
UPDATE: A commenter asked for information explaining how an ICBM could produce the phenomena seen in the video. The Christian Science Monitor interviewed a rocket scientist about this back in December. Their explanation includes a helpful video. New Scientist also had a similar, but not quite as thorough, interview with a different scientist, an astrophysicist.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.