We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Was the Vela Incident?

Michael Anissimov
By
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Historical Index is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Historical Index, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The Vela Incident, sometimes referred to as the South Atlantic Flash, was a mysterious nuclear explosion which occurred near the very remote Bouvet island, thousands of miles south of Africa. It is thought to have been a clandestine nuclear test by either the South African or Israeli government.

The Vela Incident is named after the United States' Vela spy satellite, which observed the characteristic double flash of a nuclear bomb in the early morning hours of 22 September 1979. In the weeks after the blast, there was much confusion as to whether this really was a nuclear explosion, and if so, to whom it belonged. Navy hydrophones picked up acoustic disturbances similar to what would be expected if a small nuclear weapon were detonated on or just under the surface of the ocean.

Much information about the Vela Incident is still classified, so it can be hard for civilians to make a reliable estimate about which country might have detonated the bomb. Initially the Soviet Union or China were suspected, but they would have no reason to detonate a bomb in the area unless they wanted to make it look as if South Africa or Israel had done it. A thousand km or so away there was a French nuclear testing ground, so there has also been speculation that the Vela Incident was the detonation of a French neutron bomb.

The explosion was in the two to three kiloton range. Although some speculate that it was actually a meteor, the scientists responsible for designing the Vela satellite are adamant that it made its assessment of the presence of the characteristic nuclear double-flash properly. To this day there are those who believe the Vela Incident was the result of an exploding meteor, similar to the Tunguska event in eastern Siberia.

A panel dispatched to study the Vela Incident was skeptical about its nuclear origin, pointing out that only one of the two Vela satellites picked up the explosion. It may have been detected due to a malfunction caused by a small meteoroid impacting the satellite. Many, however, doubt the veracity of the panel's claims, arguing they were politically motivated.

We may never discover the truth about the Vela Incident until the papers concerning it are declassified, and even then, there may be insufficient information to conclude one way or the other.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Historical Index, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.