Powerful 1972 solar storm detonated ocean mines in Vietnam


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Scientists studying a powerful 1972 storm have also uncovered a recently released Navy report that showed the storm was powerful enough that it detonated ocean mines off the coast of Vietnam.

On the same day [the storm arrived on Earth], while observing the coastal waters of North Vietnam from aircraft, US Navy personnel witnessed dozens of destructor sea mines exploding with no obvious cause. These mines were airdropped by the US Navy into Vietnamese waters as part of Operation Pocket Money, a mission aimed at blocking supplies from reaching North Vietnamese ports.

The Navy promptly investigated the peculiar explosions, working with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to conclude that more than 4,000 mine detonations were most likely triggered by the solar storm, Knipp said.

A now declassified report about the mining of North Vietnam from the Chief of Naval Operations at the Mine Warfare Project Office noted, “this was the first example of what happens to a major mining campaign in the face of the vagaries of nature.”

Many of the destructor mines were designed to trigger if they sensed changes in magnetic fields associated with moving ships. Solar activity is known to perturb Earth’s magnetic field, and in early August 1972, the perturbations were likely strong enough to meet the magnetic requirements for detonation, Knipp said.

This proves once again that one must not dismiss any possibility in trying to understand what happens in the universe. Don’t be credulous, but don’t be close-minded either. The universe can surprise you.

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4 comments

  • Col Beausabre

    What’s a bit strange is that magnetic mines were developed by the British in 1918, although they weren’t fielded until 1939, most famously by the Germans. So apparently no solar event was sufficiently powerful for over thirty years – maybe fifty-five – to cause self-detonation. It would be interesting to learn just how strong the 1972 event was.

    A bit of background…

    An airdropped German mine was dropped in some mudflats and a pair of British EOD men disarmed it (after making sure that the local dockyard ran up a set of tools in non-magnetic brass) and the secrets of its mechanism were exposed. This led to the LL sweep which sent pulses down wires towed behind the minesweeper (the fluctuating magnetic field detonating the mines at a safe distance), the construction of smaller minesweepers of wood and larger steel ships having degaussing cables. (other techniques were de-perming, flashing and wiping, which gave immunity for a period and that had to be repeated). This picture of RMS Queen Mary (operating as a troop transport) shows her prominent cables.

    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=SCMZZB07&id=CCCF71DDD6CD89A284025C91C8C1C8B868CA23AD&thid=OIP.SCMZZB07aGJiHQJd2_Y7OgHaDf&mediaurl=https%3a%2f%2fwww.scienceabc.com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2018%2f02%2fRMS-Queen-Mary-20Jun1945-NewYork.jpg&exph=482&expw=1024&q=degaussing+coil+naval&simid=607993915265057682&selectedIndex=50&ajaxhist=0

    This made these ships “invisible” to magnetic mines and it was probably a garbled rumor about degaussing involving the destroyer escort USS Eldridge that led to “he Philadelphia Experiment” myth (” An earlier theory was that “the foundation for the apocryphal stories arose from degaussing experiments which have the effect of making a ship undetectable or ‘invisible’ to magnetic mines” – Wikipedia)

    https://medium.com/war-is-boring/how-britain-beat-germanys-wwii-magnetic-sea-mines-bfec5558704c, see

    If you want to learn the complete story of US mine warfare from the Revolutionary to Korean Wars, See “Most Dangerous Sea” by Arnold Lott (get the Naval Institute edition, not the Ballantine Books abridged version)

  • @ Col Beausabre:


    So apparently no solar event was sufficiently powerful for over thirty years – maybe fifty-five – to cause self-detonation. ”

    Or mine sensors were improved. What struck me was that 4,000 mines were detonated by the one storm. How many were laid?

  • pzatchok

    What strikes me was that ONLY American mines were detonated and only in that area.

    In 1972 we didn’t use mines in any other area? For any other reason?

    No one else in the whole world had a problem? Not even the Soviets who were paranoid about us spies in their waters?

    Or did the US just get a batch of over sensitive detonators?

    What was the field strength needed to set off the mines?

    What other proof of a solar storm is there?

  • pzatchok

    Just looked it up.

    August 1972 was also the month that the last US troops left Vietnam. In disorder.

    Maybe the Navy set off all the mines instead of risking lives recovering them and risking lives leaving them behind.

    We also had astronauts in space at the time.

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