Huge solar storm ‘actually set off bombs during the Vietnam war’

Rob Waugh
It highlights the terrifying power of solar flares (Getty)

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.

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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.