Thousands of people in Israel, Turkey and Jordan got the shock of their lives yesterday, as they watched a spinning 'UFO' performing cartwheels in the sky.

Police in these countries - as well as in Cyprus and Lebanon - were flooded with phonecalls by panicked residents, as the white, gleaming light danced high up in the atmosphere.

Theories abounded over what this could be - a failing missile test, a satellite breaking up in our atmosphere, or a visit from an alien spacecraft.

However, the mysterious light does appear to be earth-based technology, with the the spiral of light looking very similar to a Russian missile test which similarly scared people in Norway in 2009 with a light-show which seemed more Doctor Who than anything else.

The event began at around 8:45pm in the evening, and after a few hours of panic, the Defense Ministry in Moscow said a test rocket had been launched just six minutes before that time.

They called it a successful launch, although a leaked and then supressed video apparrently shows the missile beginning to fail.

If this is the case, then the spirals of light in the sky is fuel spewing out from the missile as it burns in a fierce cartwheel through the sky, creating the startling geocentric shapes.

The missile is thought to be 120 to 180 miles in the sky which, at the top end of the scale, is roughly half as high as the International Space Station, at 345 miles.

If it was a missile exploding at that height, it explains why the spectacle could be seen from such a wide swathe of countries.

Israeli Astronomical Association Chairman Dr. Yigal Pat-El said it was most likely a missile: 'It most likely spun out of control and its remnants and the fuel was what people saw.

'It reached a height of 200-300 kilometers and that's why it was seen from so many locations.'

A witness said: 'We saw a large trail of light traveling from a distant spot in the sky.

'We could not see the source of the light. The trail was massive. It was an unusual sight. Moments later we saw swirling movement where the light was coming from.'

The Russian Defense Ministry statement said the country had successfully test-fired a Topol strategic intercontinental ballistic missile from Russia's Astrakhan region, to a testing area in Kazakhstan - approximately 2,000 miles from Israel's northern border.

In 2009, Norway's northern town of Tromso were given a similar display. The Russian Defense Ministry admitted later this was a failed test of a Bulava intercontinental missile.