A Massive Solar Storm Detonated Sea Mines During the Vietnam War

Tuesday, 13 November 2018 - 2:23PM
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Tuesday, 13 November 2018 - 2:23PM
A Massive Solar Storm Detonated Sea Mines During the Vietnam War
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NASA Goddard
By 1972, the Vietnam War was close to its end, though it would still take three more years for Saigon to fall. In the wake of the long-awaited Easter Offensive by the North Vietnamese Army, however, something unexpected happened: a massive solar flare on par with the infamous 1859 Carrington Event swept across the Earth, causing auroras in lower latitudes...and detonating two dozen sea mines off the coast of Vietnam.

Scientists have conducted a lot of research on the 1972 flare, which lasted from August 2nd to August 4th, but a new study published in the scientific journal Space Weather is the first to dig into Navy records and discover the effect on the sea mines, which were stationed near Hai Phong, North Vietnam. According to their research, American pilots flying over the area reported seeing roughly two dozen explosions within a 30-second period, leading to the realization that magnetically triggered sea mines could be tripped by solar flares. This caused the Navy to immediately begin developing new triggers that wouldn't be vulnerable to magnetic interference.

Some of the other effects of the flare include "dayside radio blackouts," auroras appearing as far south as the UK and Spain, and damage to satellites in orbit. In fact, the radiation from the flare was so powerful that it tricked the US Air Force's nuclear detectors, falsely indicating that a nuclear bomb had been detonated. According to the researchers, "[the] activity fits the description of a Carrington‐class storm minus the low‐latitude aurora reported in 1859."

Though the flare was incredibly powerful, a true repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event in modern day would be catastrophic: according to experts, it would wreck satellite communication (including GPS and monetary transactions), the internet, and the global power grid. It must have been uncanny and a little frightening to see dozens of sea mines detonate without warning in 1972, but that's peanuts compared to what the Sun can do to our technology and our planet.

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