In 1972, American pilots flying over North Vietnam saw huge sea mines detonating suddenly for no apparent reason – but researchers now believe they have solved the mystery.
Researchers from CU Boulder say that the mines may have been detonated from space – by magnetised gas hurled at our planet by a solar storm.
The research highlights the power of solar storms – and shows how vulnerable our wired world could be to a large solar storm.
CU Boulder professor Delores Knipp investigated the explosions – and found a declassified military report which linked the explosion of dozens of sea mines to a large solar storm.
Knipp and her colleagues linked the report to reports from scientists around the world, showing large solar flares from 2 August 1972 to 4 August 1972.
Knipp said, ‘I started reading this report, and I said ‘wow, this really happened.’
She says the find highlights the scale of the flares – and the danger of solar activity.
Knipp said, ‘In the process of researching this event, I realized that this was, in fact, a great storm. But it was also such an odd storm in the way it developed and the way it hit the earth.
‘What this event does is give us a sense of range of what these great storms could look like.’
Researchers warned last year that a ‘super solar storm’ could burn out power stations, cut water supplies, and leave satellites dead in the skies.
The only account of a ‘super storm’ striking Earth comes from more than 150 years ago – when a Victorian scientist, Richard Carrington, described an eruption known as ‘the Carrington event’.
In 1859, there were no telephones and satellites, but the power of the storm devastated communications – telegraph wires around the world burnt out, and some operators reported sheets of paper catching fire.