September 22, 1979: Vela Incident, UFO or Secret Nuke Test?

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A Brief History

On September 22, 1979,  a huge, unidentified double flash of light was seen by a US reconnaissance satellite near the Prince Edward Islands near Antarctica.  Known as the “Vela Incident” because of the satellite’s name, Vela Hotel, not much is publicly known about the incident, as the US government has kept much of the information secret.

Digging Deeper

The origin of the mysterious flash has been speculated to be a nuclear test kept secret from the rest of the world, perhaps by Israel and or South Africa, possibly a joint venture by those two nations.  Other explanations include the satellite being struck by a small meteor, or an electronic glitch.  The secrecy still being maintained gives fodder for the conspiracy theorists to speculate if the incident had extra-terrestrial origins.

Although a double flash (first very quick, second of longer duration) is characteristic of a nuclear detonation,  over flights by US reconnaissance aircraft with nuclear detecting gear did not indicate a nuke having detonated in the area.  The satellite in question supposedly had an inoperative EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) detector, which could have given more credence to the nuclear bomb test theory had that device detected the characteristic EMP of a nuclear explosion.

Other speculation has included a secret nuclear test by the Soviet Union or China, Pakistan, India, or even France.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy was detailed by President Carter to investigate the incident, and they ruled the incident “probably not” a nuclear explosion.  This conclusion has been heatedly debated by scientists that claim the Carter administration had a vested interest in denying a nuclear test, given the President’s strong policy against nuclear proliferation.  In 2010 a Carter diary entry from 1980 revealed that he thought the incident was an Israeli nuclear test, while further speculation by others is that the incident was specifically a “neutron bomb” test by the Israelis.

The Vela Incident has been portrayed in 2 television shows, The West Wing and NCIS: Los Angeles, as well as the Abe Ariel novel, The Last War.  Until all the information is declassified, we will not know for sure what exactly the incident was, or perhaps we will find the government is not sure either.  Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think the “double flash” was?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Clark, Jerome.  The UFO Encyclopedia, 3rd Ed.  Omnigraphics, Inc., 2018.

The featured image in this article, Bhangmeter light patterns detected by a pair of sensors on Vela satellite 6911 on 22 Sep 1979, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.