How the Aurora Borealis Nearly Started World War III

Charles Maultsby. Credit: National Security Archive

The year was 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis was at its peak, and it had been only days since President Kennedy learned that the Soviet Union was establishing missile sites in Cuba. The U.S. Air Force was on DEFCON-2. American and Soviet military forces were an order away from launching a nuclear attack.

But on Saturday, October 27, it wasn’t a military general or political leader who nearly upended that delicate world balance and set off World War III. It was the aurora borealis.

I first came across this story as a passing mention in Skunk Works by Ben Rich and Leo Janos, and Michael Dobbs goes into a great deal of detail in One Minute to Midnight. The full story is fascinating, and my retelling is over on Discover’s blog The Crux.

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