In a world filled with Hollywood nuclear threat scenarios where some third force gets its hands on nuclear weapons, the 1979 “Vela Incident” stands out as a real mystery. In this article, we will examine the details of this mysterious event, exploring the evidence, theories, and unanswered questions. By examining various sources and expert opinions, we will examine this fascinating story.
The Vela incident of September 1979 involved the detection of a double flash of light by the Vela satellite system. This network of U.S. satellites, designed to detect nuclear testing, detected an unauthorized nuclear explosion. The incident occurred near the Prince Edward Islands in the Indian Ocean.
On September 22, at exactly 00:53 UTC, the American satellite Vela OPS 6911 detected a possible nuclear explosion with its sensors. The satellite’s sensors detected a double flash characteristic of atmospheric nuclear explosions. The first flash was fast and intense, followed by a second, less intense but longer lasting flash. This distinctive pattern raised suspicions of secret nuclear testing, which immediately alerted the U.S. and its allies.
Who was testing nuclear weapons so far out in the Indian Ocean?
The United States and its allies immediately suspected that some unknown power was violating international agreements to build and test its own nuclear bomb. At the time, several countries in the region were known to have nuclear capabilities and were suspected of being involved in clandestine nuclear activities.
Evidence of a nuclear test?
A satellite recorded two bright flashes that could have indicated a nuclear test . But was there anything else? After all, even the smallest nuclear explosions tend to be quite large and make a lot of noise. Of course, it would be hard not to notice.
Well, the very scene itself raised suspicions. Nuclear tests are not easily concealed. But the outbreak was detected in an area of the Indian Ocean near the Prince Edward Islands, a remote area far from major population centers. This geographic isolation made it an ideal location for clandestine nuclear tests because it would have reduced the chances of detection and international investigation.
Of course, nuclear bombs also typically produce radioactive fallout, which the Americans began looking for. From October 22 to 29, the United States Air Force (USAF) flew 25 aircraft over the Indian Ocean to conduct atmospheric tests. At first they found no evidence of an explosion.
However, wind studies showed that radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests had been carried by the wind to southwestern Australia . When sheep in Southeastern Australia were tested shortly after the incident, they showed low levels of iodine-131 (a product of nuclear fission).
Suspiciously, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico detected a strange ionospheric wave (a disturbance of the Earth’s upper atmosphere) on the day of the incident that had not been observed before. However, this evidence was not exactly conclusive proof. The barely irradiated sheep were in southeastern Australia, not southwestern Australia.
Moreover, if the fallout had spread that far, one would expect it to have reached New Zealand, where no trace of iodine-131 was found. It should also be noted that ionospheric waves can be caused by many things, including solar activity, geomagnetic storms, meteor showers and even seismic events, not just nuclear explosions.
Americans didn’t know what to make of this strange mixture of facts and untrustworthiness. After the event became public, the U.S. Department of Defense continued to claim that the incident was either a bomb explosion, as first assumed, or an unusual combination of natural phenomena.
By late October, the NSC (U.S. Security Council) reported that it had “high confidence” that a low-yield nuclear bomb had been detonated in the region.
So, who were the suspects if the Vela incident was indeed a nuclear test? Two countries have often been in the spotlight: South Africa and Israel . At the time of the incident, both countries were known to have nuclear capabilities and were suspected of being involved in clandestine nuclear weapons programs.
South Africa was under international pressure and scrutiny because of its apartheid policies and development of nuclear weapons. It had previously conducted a series of nuclear tests in the 1970s. The Vela incident occurred at a time of heightened tensions, leading to suspicions that South Africa may have conducted another clandestine test to realize its nuclear ambitions.
Israel, a non-signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, has long been suspected of possessing nuclear weapons. It has maintained a policy of ambiguity about its nuclear program. The Vela incident occurred at a time when Israel was expanding its nuclear capabilities, leading to speculation that it may have been responsible for the detected nuclear explosion.
The U.S. and other countries conducted numerous investigations in an attempt to determine the truth behind the Vela incident. However, despite all efforts, no definitive evidence or conclusions were ever reached. To this day, no one knows exactly what really happened that day or who is responsible.
What’s the bottom line? Someone detonated a nuclear bomb in a remote part of the ocean, but the entire world community has never been able to pinpoint who did it. Nuclear explosions don’t just happen by themselves. If it was indeed an unauthorized nuclear test, then the force behind it successfully tested a nuclear bomb and got away with it. Which means there are nuclear weapons somewhere that we know nothing about.
Some third party has built, tested and possesses nuclear weapons…that no one knows about. In a world where “officially nuclear-weapon-possessing countries” are in constant confrontation and tensely waiting to see who will push the “red button” first – the presence of a third party possessing nuclear weapons is a dangerous factor.
When one of the nuclear powers is struck with nuclear weapons, no one will know who used them. All possessors of nuclear weapons are known and there will be no time for investigations. In response to a strike, there is an immediate retaliatory nuclear strike against the enemy.