Declassified military report reveals extreme solar storm likely detonated mines during Vietnam War

By Madison Dapcevich
November 27, 2018, 3:43:59 PM EST

Nearing the end of the Vietnam War, the US military deployed more than 2,000 destructor mines (DST) in an effort to “interdict trains, trucks, and other land vehicles.” However, a US Task Force flying near the naval minefield on August 4, 1972, observed dozens of random unexplained explosions over the course of just 30 seconds, at the time prompting a military investigation. Now, a declassified US Navy report reveals that extraterrestrial forces likely sparked the mysterious phenomenon.

Buried deep in the 143-page report are several passages that describe some of the “more unusual aspects” of the Haiphong operation, including the unintentional detonation of DSTs. We're now beginning to know why. August 1972 saw intense solar activity on a region of the Sun known as MR 11976, where astronomers recorded a series of solar flares, solar plasma eruptions, and clouds of charged particles moving at the speed of light and causing disruptions in Earth’s magnetic field that resulted in blackouts across the world. The DSTs deployed were manufactured to respond to magnetic disruptions, which these solar events triggered.

According to the report, the US Air Force aircraft “seeded about 2,048 DST 36s on land targets.” Following the August solar storms, an “extensive reseeding” effort was required after the storm had “depleted the fields of all sensitive DST 36 weapons." They concluded there was a “high degree of probability” these landmines were detonated by the solar activity.

“The number of active weapons reached a peak on about August 1. Thereafter, the strength of the fields was degraded by early August solar storms,” reads the report, noting some mines may have detonated due to a pre-set self-destruction feature that was built in.

IFLScience solar flare mines graph

A graph found on page 45 in report B shows the degradation of active mines following the August 1972 solar storm.

Solar storms are magnetic field fluctuations that can impact the power grid here on Earth. Their intensity is measured in nano-Tesla (nT) – the lower the negative, the higher the storm intensity. In 2015, a St. Patrick Day storm peaked at -222 nT, while a 2003 Halloween Stormclocked in at -383 nT. Earthlings may have seen traces of the northern lights as a result, but neither of the storms set off land mines or disrupted power grids – at least, not that we know of. Why, then, did the August 1972 solar storm, which measured just -125 nT, cause a large enough disruption in the magnetic field to detonate dozens of landmines?

Writing in Space Weather last month, researchers speculate that earlier flare ejections could have cleared a path for this particular flare, allowing it to reach Earth in less than half the amount of time it normally would. In their paper, scientists call the August event a “Carrington-class storm”, referencing a powerful solar storm that occurred in 1859. It’s estimated that if a similar solar event were to transpire today, we would see extensive damage to the electrical grid and massive blackouts.

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