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How a 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Led To Nuclear War ( 66

schwit1 quotes a report from A powerful solar storm nearly heated the Cold War up catastrophically a half century ago, a new study suggests. 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, according to the study. "Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact [of the storm] likely would have been much greater," Delores Knipp, a space physicist at the University of Colorado Boulder and the study's lead author, said in a statement. "This was a lesson learned in how important it is to be prepared." Initially, it was assumed that the Soviet Union was to blame. Since radar jamming is considered an act of war, "commanders quickly began preparing nuclear-weapon-equipped aircraft for launch." Spoiler: Solar forecasters at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) figured out it was a flare that caused the outages, not the Soviets. You can read the abstract of the paper for free here.
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How a 1967 Solar Storm Nearly Led To Nuclear War

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  • Almost... (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheDarAve ( 513675 ) on Saturday August 13, 2016 @06:15AM (#52695657)

    "Solar forecasters at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) figured out it was a flare that caused the outages, not the Soviets."

    At which point the United States declared war on the Sun and began its long war to liberate space. 'MERICA!

    • jokes on you, the sun has been at war with the Earth for billions of years.

      all reports say that it will win in time.

      'Merica will stop it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      At which point the United States declared war on the Sun and began its long war to liberate space. 'MERICA!


      Our government doesn't declare war. We just invent some moralistic rationales about the "threat" to our "security" and then we crank up our mass media propaganda system to "sell" the war before we attack. :(

      • by Lennie ( 16154 )


        Our government doesn't declare war. We just invent some moralistic rationales about the "threat" to our "security" and then we crank up our mass media propaganda system to "sell" the war before we attack. :(

        Yep, declare war on a thing/word/concept that will solve everything. ;-)

        War on drugs, war on terror, what's next ?

  • CPE1704TKS

  • I'd be more worried about a bug. On either side. A bug that triggers the launch a weapon. Or a bug that falsely identify a weapon has been launched.
    • You mean like what happened on 26 September 1983? Remember to say thank you to Stanislav Petrov!

    • Re:Bug (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Saturday August 13, 2016 @08:34AM (#52695861)
      Stories have a way of evolving over time. The cold war was a time of great uncertainty, fear, and distrust. The US and the Soviets were both very uncertain about the technical capabilities of each other. The realities of WWII were still fresh in the minds of many. So when something like this occurred that was not understood, defense mechanisms were kicked into action.

      But that does not mean we were ready to push the button or we would have if some scientists hadn't stepped in. It seems that we went through a process of evaluating all of the possibilities, and with the insight of the space program contributors to that process we figured out the cause, and it happened fairly quickly.

      I'm sure that over the years some of those scientists liked to tell the story of how they saved the day. And its inevitable that over time the implication of how close we were to pushing the button was enhanced to make the story more interesting. But reality is often a bit more boring and the most likely reality is that we were still early in the process of evaluating the situation and only taking preliminary defensive actions.

      Its an interesting story nonetheless, but time has its way of dramatizing things.
  • Blocking radar is an "act of war" but sending powerful radar deep into your enemies territory isnt?!

    • by rfengr ( 910026 )
      I suppose blocking (stealth, chaff, decoys) and jamming are different.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        They just wanted the war. Not that all these training and HW would go waste because Ruskis did not attack. come to think of it - all the waste because Ruskis did not attack was an act of war - where is the guy with the codes?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      you will find a lot of such oddities.

      Apparently flying spy planes over Russia is also not an act of war, but if Russia did the same thing would it be equally acceptable?
      Putting nuclear weapons right next to Russia is OK, but when Russia put them in Cuba it wasn't OK.

      This was the moment when Secretary of State Dean Rusk, by his own account, uttered the most memorable line of the missile crisis: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

      Odd, because most of the

  • Is the space weather forecasting program one of the things Trump wants to ax to pay for his tax programs?
    • by kjell79 ( 215108 )

      Well, it wouldn't surprise me if he lumps weather forecasters in with the media. The same media that he considers is out to get him and ruin his campaign. And even if he does not cut funding, if another solar storm happens will Trump even listen to these people? I'm a pretty moderate and pragmatic guy but I find it astounding that so many people are voting for him.

    • I don't know, but there are at least three groups that forecast space weather --

      NOAA SWPC gives the official reports to the public.
      NASA CCMC also runs forecasting for stuff (and people) in space, as they're not protected by the magnetosphere.
      USAF has a group that does it for the exact reason in the article ... but I don't think they make theirs public.

      The CCMC used to announce their storm forecasts on twitter ... but there was a time when they said a storm was going to be significant, and SWPC didn't ... af

  • by Anonymous Coward

    U.S. veterans reveal 1962 nuclear close call dodged in Okinawa []


    At the final moment of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, the U.S. nuclear missile men in Okinawa received a launch order which was later found to have been mistakenly issued, according to testimonies by former U.S. veterans given to Kyodo News.

    In the fall of 1962, the Soviet Union introduced nuclear missiles into Cuba from where Moscow could target the mainland of the United States. U.S. President John F. Kennedy and hi

    • This is scary and also very creepy. Defently not some computer glitch (as far as the launch order and which countries to attack goes) because the entire launch system was made up of code books, papers inside double padlocked steel boxes, metal keys, radio/telephone links and most importantly, the human mind. Who would give such an order, and how did it make it all the way through the command and security chain to the men who were tasked to "push the button"?
    • I think the story about a Russian error in translating TV listings was more interesting. At the height of the crisis, US TV stations were scheduled to re-run a speech by Kennedy on the crisis. Russians didn't grasp the concept of re-runs, so they thought he had a new speech scheduled, and assumed it would be a declaration of war. So they pulled out of Cuba.
  • That was not as much a spoiler as it was a fact. Spoiler: description of an important plot development in a television show, movie, or book which if previously known may reduce surprise or suspense We know how it ends! Duh
  • No it didn't. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Saturday August 13, 2016 @09:54AM (#52695979) Homepage Journal

    It did not almost start a nuclear war. The system back then was actually better thought out than the one we have today. The DEW line was "jammed". If the military really thought that it was the soviets then the alert bombers would have been launched and would have flown to the failsafe line then gone back to base.
    No war.
    The most you can say is that the US considered launching it's alert bombers to the failsafe line.

  • assumed that the Soviet Union was to blame.

    Nothing's changed, per email hacks. We just call them "Russians" now.

  • The launch system, on both the USA and Soviet sides, was designed in anticipation of events such as this one. That is to say, the system balanced the need for a quick response to detection events to the need to prevent false/rogue launches.
    The launch system had several levels of decisions and coordination among people that had to be met before an attack would be launched, and people and protocols were placed with the authority to prevent launches at every level.
    There were several such events like this one d

  • The solar flare must have jammed USSR's radars too at the same time. How did they react? Do we have some information on this?
    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      I was thinking the same thing. Maybe an outage was so common they didn't give it a second thought?

      • You seem to assume USSR military gear was as rusted and unreliable in the sixties as it was when USSR collapsed. I am not sure it was the case, otherwise USSR would not have been considered a threat.
    • Same here. I'm guessing there was some direct communication about it.

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