1967 Solar Storm Nearly Took US To Nuclear War

Posted: Aug 10 2016, 4:20am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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1967 Solar Storm Nearly Took US to Nuclear War
A view of the sun on May 23, 1967, in a narrow visible wavelength of light called Hydrogen-alpha. The bright region in the top center region of brightness shows the area where the large flare occurred. Credit: National Solar Observatory historical archive.
  • Solar Storm almost caused Nuclear Confrontation during the Cold War

A solar storm almost caused nuclear confrontation between the superpowers during the height of the Cold War.

There was a solar storm that occurred in 1967 that interfered with radar and radio transmission signals. This could have caused a military face-off between the USA and the USSR.

Had the US Air Force not monitored the sun’s activities, things may have led to an escalation of offensive weapons between the two superpowers. In 1967, the US Air Force started preparing for war as there were signs that the USSR was jamming the surveillance radars located at the poles.

Retired U.S. Air Force officers involved in forecasting and analyzing the storm collectively describe the event publicly for the first time in a new paper accepted for publication in Space Weather, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

In the nick of time, the weather forecasters relayed information regarding the solar storm that was actually responsible for causing all this misunderstanding between the superpowers. Thus the bomber planes remained stationed on the runways and a great catastrophe in the form of nuclear war was avoided.

Several retired Air Force officers who were on duty during that brief yet tense moment have described the event in the study. The storm’s impact on the populace was virtually unknown until these veteran Air Force officers divulged all the facts.

This storm of 1967 is a case in point of how geological science and space expertise can avert a disaster. It was all an important issue of national security after all.

Had the research facilities not been up-to-date, the Cold War may have escalated into full-scale nuclear war. It was an object lesson in the value of science to offset some of its own deleterious effects.

It was in the last few years of the 1950s that the US began monitoring solar activity. In the 1960s, solar flares were noticed by the observational facilities. A large network of such observational posts were set up by the US around the world.

As the solar geomagnetic storm flared up on 23rd May, 1967, the radars at the ballistic missile sites were jammed as a result. These radars were supposed to sense any incoming missiles from the Soviet Union.

When it was clarified that the radars were being jammed by the sun’s rays and not by any Soviet schemes, the US Air Force officers heaved a collective sigh of relief. This was like something had gone horribly wrong and then suddenly gotten rectified. It was indeed a close call.

The geomagnetic storm disrupted much of the communicational signals of the USA way back then. Thanks to the correct diagnosis, a major setback was avoided. The world was saved from nuclear disaster by a mere hair’s breadth.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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