Although listed as one of the most significant events of the last 80 years, the space weather storm of late May 1967 has been of mostly fading academic interest. The storm made its initial mark with a colossal solar radio burst causing radio interference at frequencies between 0.01 – 9.0 GHz and near-simultaneous disruptions of dayside radio communication by intense fluxes of ionizing solar X-rays.

“Aspects of military control and communication were immediately challenged. Within hours, a solar energetic particle event disrupted high-frequency communication in the polar cap. Subsequently, record-setting geomagnetic and ionospheric storms compounded the disruptions,” study authors say.

This story develops during the rapid rise of Solar Cycle 20 and the intense Cold War in the latter half of the 20th Century. Authors detail the events of late May 1967 in the intersecting categories of solar-terrestrial interactions and the political-military backdrop of the Cold War. This was one of the “Great Storms” of the 20th century, despite the lack of large geomagnetically-induced currents.

Solar storm of May 23, 1967

On May 18, 1967, an unusually large group of sunspots with intense magnetic fields appeared in one region of the Sun. On May 23, observatories in New Mexico and Colorado saw a flare visible to the naked eye while a solar radio observatory in Massachusetts reported the Sun was emitting unprecedented levels of radio waves.

A significant worldwide geomagnetic storm was forecast to occur within 36 – 48 hours, according to a bulletin from NORAD’s Solar Forecast Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado on May 23.

As the solar flare event unfolded on May 23, radars at all three Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites in the far northern hemisphere were disrupted. The radars, designed to detect incoming Soviet missiles, appeared to be jammed, which, if true, would be considered as an act of war.

The Air Force prepared aircraft for war, thinking the nation’s surveillance radars in polar regions were being jammed by the Soviet Union. Just in time, military space weather forecasters conveyed information about the solar storm’s potential to disrupt radar and radio communications. The planes remained on the ground and the U.S. avoided a potential nuclear weapon exchange with the Soviet Union.

Retired Colonel Arnold L. Snyder, a solar forecaster at NORAD’s Solar Forecast Center, was on duty that day. The tropospheric weather forecaster told him the NORAD Command Post had asked about any solar activity that might be occurring.

“I specifically recall responding with excitement, ‘Yes, half the Sun has blown away,’ and then related the event details in a calmer, more quantitative way,” Snyder said.

Along with the information from the Solar Forecast Center, NORAD learned the three BMEWS sites were in sunlight and could receive radio emissions coming from the Sun. These facts suggested the radars were being ‘jammed’ by the Sun, not the Soviet Union, Snyder said. As solar radio emissions waned, the ‘jamming’ also waned, further suggesting the Sun was to blame, he said.

Written by The Watchers
Source and full article can be read at:Extreme space weather event that could have led to a nuclear war

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