Major solar storm detonated US Navy sea mines during Vietnam War

Old military documents have revealed that a massive solar storm detonated US Navy bombs during the Vietnam War. The event happened in early August 1972, during a brief period of solar activity that had caused major terrestrial disruptions. According to a newly published study, this solar storm caused dozens of US Navy bombs to erupt at the same time.

In May 1972, the US Navy initiated a sea mine-laying operation called Pocket Money in an effort to cut off North Vietnam supply routes. Some of the thousands of deployed mines were designed to trigger due to magnetic influence, making them vulnerable to major sunspot activity.

A major solar storm took place later that year in August. According to a NASA educational website, the solar flares were substantial and the activity resulted in disruptions and damage to some telecommunications systems. A study recently published in the journal Space Weather also points toward documents in the Vietnam War archive that reveal major effects on the sea mines.

Dozens of mines experienced "nearly instantaneous" and entirely unintended detonations on August 4, 1972, according to the study. The military documents reveal that the US Navy blamed the detonations on "magnetic perturbations of solar storms," pointing toward the solar activity in early August 1972 as the cause.

The explosions were reportedly observed by a TF-77 aircraft, and they weren't the only mines triggered by the solar activity. The study points toward the memoirs of Chief Petty Officer Michael Gonzales, who claimed that in early August 1972, "a series of extremely strong solar flares caused ... the premature detonation of over 4,000 magnetically sensitive [destructor mines]..."

The detonations spurred the replacement of these magnetically-sensitive mines with alternatives that weren't prone to solar influence.