A Russian intercontinental test missile lit up Middle Eastern skies on Thursday night, as thousands of Israelis watched the spectacle.

Hundreds of people telephoned police emergency lines after witnessing the bright object pierce its way through the night sky. The missile traveled at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour and with a large trail, spun into a spiral and vanished into a smoky wisp.

The object was also visible in neighboring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Azerbaijan.

As the mystery grew, police posted a Facebook message minutes after the mass sighting, saying it would check with the IDF over the nature of the object. The Israeli Astronomical Association said in an initial assessment that the object flew at a height of 80 km. but was not a meteor.

The public did not need to wait long to learn the truth as hours after the sighting, Russia said it carried out a successful missile test.

“The fact that it was seen in our area does not mean that the missile path was over the Middle East,” Uzi Rubin, an architect of Israel’s missile defense program, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “It was likely fired from some sort of test launch center in southern Russia,” he said.

The missile struck its target in Kazakhstan, Russia said.

Rubin said the missile was likely fired just after sunset at the launch center, adding that when a missile soars to a point where the sun is not yet beneath the horizon, it leaves the Earth’s shadow and glows in the sun.

“To an observer who is under a night sky, it looks like the missile is glowing like a sort of comet. The missile itself is not visible because it is relatively small, but the trail of gases leaving the engine are lit by the sun [which] are highly visible,” he said.

Rubin recalled seeing a similar phenomenon while visiting Los Angeles and witnessing a test missile fired from Vandenberg Air Force base located 500 km. to the north.

The missile seen Thursday night has no connection to Israel, Syria or any other Middle Eastern country, he added.

The launch can be seen as possible muscle-flexing by Moscow as tensions over a NATO missile defense system in Europe remain unabated with the United States.

Just last week, NATO announced that its program achieved “interim capability.”

Washington asserts that the program is designed to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles, but Moscow takes a suspicious view of that position and views itself as the true target of the missile plan.

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