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A 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Caused A Nuclear War

A 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Caused A Nuclear War, Earth Sky, Lia De La Cruz,August 3, 2021 

The great 1967 solar storm

On May 23, 1967, more than two decades into the high drama of the Cold War, surveillance radars on far-northern parts of the globe (northern Alaska, Greenland, and the U.K.) suddenly and inexplicably jammed. These radars were designed to detect incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. An attack on them by another nation was considered an act of war.

It was a time when tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union were running high. U.S. military commanders did consider that the jammed radars might be an attack by our enemies. On that fateful day in 1967, these commanders ordered a high alert. They authorized aircraft armed with nuclear weapons to take to the skies. Luckily, before they did, another reason for the jammed radar emerged.

In the end, an unlikely set of heroes – some of the earliest space-weather forecasters – emerged to save the day. They realized that the effects of a powerful solar flare had jammed the radar. Their knowledge of the sun averted what might have become an all-out nuclear war.

Atmospheric physicist Delores Knipp of the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (both in Boulder, Colorado) collaborated with retired U.S. Air Force officers to bring this story to light in 2016. Their article – how a solar flare nearly triggered a nuclear war – was published on August 9, 2016, in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Space Weather. The authors wrote:

We explain how the May 1967 storm was nearly one with ultimate societal impact, were it not for the nascent efforts of the United States Air Force in expanding its terrestrial weather monitoring-analysis-warning-prediction efforts into the realm of space weather forecasting.

How could this happen?!

Solar flares are massive bursts of radiation from the sun, associated with sunspots. They’re our solar system’s largest explosive events, lasting from minutes to hours. They’re seen as bright patches on the sun’s surface. But solar flares are ordinary events. Especially near the peak of the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity, they happen often………….

As the flare’s effects on Earth unfolded, the three different Ballistic Missile Early Warning System radar sites – the Clear Air Force Station in Alaska, Thule Air Base in Greenland, and Fylingdales in the U.K. – all stopped working. The sudden influx of solar radio waves had overwhelmed their systems, the study authors wrote…………..

According to the study authors, it was NORAD’s correct diagnosis of the solar storm that prevented the U.S. military from taking disastrous action. Knipp noted in their paper that the critical information was likely relayed to the highest levels of government. It possibly even reached then-President Lyndon B. Johnson……….

How would a space superstorm affect us today?

The solar storm demonstrated why reliable forecasting of what’s come to be called space weather is so important. The world learned this lesson: intense solar flares are capable of disrupting radio communications……….

Bottom line: The U.S. Air Force began preparing for war on May 23, 1967, thinking that the Soviet Union had jammed a set of American surveillance radars. But military space-weather forecasters intervened in time, telling top officials that a powerful sun eruption was to blame. Physicists and Air Force officers described the close call in an August 2016 paper published by the American Geophysical Union.

Source: The May 1967 great storm and radio disruption event



August 5, 2021 - Posted by | history, incidents, weapons and war

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