The Russians were in denial at first, but now it seems that a missile was launched from a submarine which had a bit of a malfunction and climbed while spinning. (Reminds me of my first try at a 2 stage model rocket years ago, flew just like this!). Seems that the tank ruptured spewing fuel out into space while spinning causing the big spiral pattern (see the videos).
The reason for the large size, in space there isn't the atmosphere to hold plumes in tight, so rocket exhaust plumes (or fuel leaks) will spread out a great distance without the restrictions of the atmosphere. Look at any NASA videos of rockets launching or even just this photo of a Saturn V plume, and remember that rocket is 363 feet tall- for scale of the plume.
"Bad Astronomy" Phil has some good info |