A report in the journal Space Weather might have solved the mystery of the Vietnam War – and explained how much solar activity could disrupt technology on Earth.
Every now and then, solar flares (explosions of strong magnetic energy on the Sun's surface) and coronal mass ejection (clouds of plasma released from the Sun) can cause solar storms. The electromagnetic radiation they emit can disrupt the communication system. New research explored the consequences of one particular storm in 1972.
"Extreme weather events in early August 1972 had a significant impact on the US Navy, which has not been widely reported," wrote the authors of a study team led by Delores Knipp, professor of engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. "These effects, which have long been buried in the Vietnam War archives, add to confidence in the severity of the storm: an almost instantaneous, accidental explosion of dozens of sea mines south of Hai Phong, North Vietnam."
This American mine magnetic detonator is designed to depart when a ship passes nearby. However, solar storms – which occur in stars over 90 million miles – are enough to trigger them. In fact, according to the study, the electromagnetic pulses from the injection of a coronal mass which eventually triggered a marine mine reached Earth in a record 14.6 hours (usually takes up to two days). The study also notes that additional effects from storms include radio blackouts, aurora seen in parts of England and Spain, and damage to solar panels to orbit the satellite.
The newly opened Navy document revealed that officials suspected solar activity was the cause of detonated sea mines, but the record was not fully examined until the Space Journal investigation, Gizmodo reported. The study authors also called solar activity in 1972 a "Carrington class storm," which referred to a geomagnetic storm in 1859 which remained the strongest record.
If solar storms comparable to Carrington occur again, modern technology will be destroyed, researchers at the Space Weather Forecast Center in Boulder, Colorado told National Geographic. Disaster damage will include large power outages and breakdown of communication networks. In 2017, analysts at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics estimate that the costs of such events will equal US GDP. Some scientists believe that such extreme solar activity can occur in the next 100 years.
Knipp told Yahoo Finance that by examining how solar storms detonate sea mines, scientists can better understand solar activity in the future. "What this event is doing is giving us a sense of what this big storm can look like," Knipp said.