Mar 152017

The next best thing to video of new atmospheric nuclear tests is previously unseen film of old nuclear tests. Sure, it’s not even close… it’s patently obvious that new atmospheric nuclear tests is something the United States needs to do, but I guess we’ll just have to take what we can get.

Lawrence Livermore National Labs has embarked on a project of finding and scanning and digitally restoring up to ten thousand films of above-ground nuclear tests. This is being done partially for the historic aspect, but mostly because nuclear weapons designers today have nothing to go on *but* old data, so, the more data they have, the better.

LLNL has set up a YouTube playlist of some of these.

And this one. HOLY CARP, this one.




 Posted by at 10:32 pm
  • Robbie

    HOLY CARP indeed, it’s like watching a star going nova.

  • Bob

    Open Air Testing! A great way for kids to get their Required Daily Allowance of Strontium 90 for healthy bones!

  • becida

    That last one was something!

  • Doug Pirahna

    The last one, first time I’ve seen the rope trick effect in action

  • Siergen

    Um, why is it “obvious” that we need to do new atmospheric nuclear testing? It was my understanding that the US only agreed to the atmospheric test ban because we had figured out how to get all the needed data from underground tests…

    • Scottlowther

      > why is it “obvious” that we need to do new atmospheric nuclear testing?

      Because it’d be awesome, that’s why.

      • brightlight

        It would also teach respect for these weapons.

      • publiusr

        The third one should be called “Azathoth Descending”

        The first made me think it was a 1950’s cartoon of what a birth of a star would look like. In a way–it was.

  • se jones

    The nuclear test ban treaty is one of the worst ideas in history, it is ultimately counterproductive.

    The test ban *guarantees* that if one of the nuclear powers (not including DPRK) decides to use a tactical nuclear weapon, they won’t use just *one*, they will deploy several warheads JUST TO MAKE SURE. Of course, the more you use, the more likely it will escalate the situation, leading to a much larger total war.

    “Just to make sure”? Yes. A nuclear device is a living, evolving thing. As the radioisotopes decay to their daughter products, while the non-nuclear components are irradiated, the bomb you have today is not the same bomb you will have tomorrow, it evolves with time. Despite the $billions spent on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSMP) with its powerful supercomputer simulations, there will *always* be the lingering doubt that the weapons will actually work as advertised. If the shit is really hitting the fan in some theatre tactical conflict, and only a bunker buster nuke will defang the bad guys, the military will perform due diligence and send in More Than One weapon *just to make sure*, in case shit.

    A sensible nuclear treaty, would face the reality of that _less than 100% confidence_ in the stockpile.
    A rational treaty would do this: once per year, the agreed on representatives of the nuclear powers, other UN representatives and the news media, would gather at one of the US or Russian underground test sites, where one of the nuclear nations would LIGHT ONE OFF (underground of course).

    The viewing area would be close enough to the test for the representatives (and the media) to feel the earth trimble and the see the ground collapse into the crater. This would accomplish a few of important things:
    #1: the test would increase the confidence in the weapon’s reliability, thus reducing the temptation to use several of the weapons Just In Case.
    #2: the test would mean, there would be One Less Bomb in the inventory, which *should* make the anti-nuke people happy. (should…but won’t of course)
    #3 the test would remind the world of the power, and the reality of, nuclear weapons.
    #4 the test would give scientists and engineers valuable data on fundamental physics for nuclear fusion research and astrophysics studies.

  • madoc62

    I’ve long been intrigued by the irregularities of an the expanding nuclear blast spheres. What causes the certain parts to explode differently? Why the lack of uniformity in the sphere? What was it within the device that allowed some of the explosive force to project out faster along that particular direction than the rest of the blast sphere? Given the energies involved and the speed at which it’s happening, shouldn’t it all be vaporized and rendered down to its elemental components? And thus just a uniform cloud of plasma?

    Instead, in high speed camera footage of such blast spheres there’s always lumps and specks that make it a non-uniform thing.

    • se jones

      Some of the spikes, bulges and bubbles you see are from the vaporized parts of the towers holding the device, the heat from the visible and infrared radiation reaches that stuff before the fireball which, for a few milliseconds, can’t get out of its own way as the air is not very transparent to X-rays. But, even in air drops, you see irregularities in the fireball because the components making the bomb are different distances from the “pit” and they have different physical properties (mass, shape, material). Those small inhomogeneities are amplified as the fireball expands to a certain point, but then later as the fireball expands and cools those inhomogeneities will become randomized as the plasma mixes with the ambient air.

      Even if you imagine (in a “thought experiment”) a completely uniform, spherical, mass of fissionable material, floating in deep space, and you could somehow magically make the mass go critical and explode, you’d *still* have a “spotty” looking fireball milliseconds after ignition, because of quantum effects like the radionuclide’s half-life. The half-life is only an average, any one radionuclide atom may decay now, or a thousand years from now, so the uniform fissionable mass can never be, even in theory, *exactly* homogenous.

      One cool aspect of this is the “big nuclear bang” we are all living in. One of the great feats of modern astronomy and engineering, was the observation by the COBY spacecraft, of the minute variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Quantum fluctuations at the moment of “inflation” were amplified to variations on giga-lightyear scales as the universe expanded.

      Below is a picture of the cosmic microwave background radiation “anisotropy” exaggerated and projected on a sphere. Looks familiar.

      • madoc62

        Thanks for the explanation!

        The specks and such within the blast sphere are one thing. If you watch the films of these nuke tests the blast spheres aren’t just speckled they also have lumps and such protruding from the overall blast sphere and that’s very intriguing to me.

        I can understand the structure of the bombs and the towers, if used, causing some slight slowing in the overall sphere’s formation. But these are protrusions beyond the blast sphere’s surface. It’s as if certain portions of the blast somehow jetted out ahead of the rest of the blast sphere. That always seemed odd to me.

        I’d imagine it’d either be perfectly uniform or that there’d be depressions / divots in the sphere due to something getting in the way – however briefly – of the sphere’s expansion. But not protrusions beyond the sphere.

        • se jones

          Those protrusions were nicknamed “rope tricks” by the physicists.
          The visible and infrared “light” from the point of ignition, travels through the atmosphere at the speed of light. That visible and infrared “lights up” the cables and tower structure, heating them to incandesce a fraction of a millisecond after ignition. BUT, the majority of the electromagnetic energy from ignition is in the form of X-rays, and those X-rays don’t travel very far in the air before they are absorbed & scattered by the air molecules (the air isn’t “transparent” to X-rays), this absorption & scattering of the X-rays creates a super high-pressure shock wave in the air. This shockwave must obey the laws of hydrodynamics, it does not expand at the speed of light, so therefor we see the tower cables vaporized to a plasma *before* the spherical “fireball” (the fireball being everything “behind or inside” the shock wave).
          This creates the illusion of stuff jetting out of the fireball. The cables are being “lit up” in front of the expanding shock wave “fireball” so the metallic plasma from the cables looks like it’s jetting out.

          There are other optical effects created from this process in expanding nuclear fireballs, both from bombs or from supernova stars. All electromagnetic radiation expands out at the speed of light, BUT not all that radiation propagates the same way, because that medium the radiation is propagating through, absorbs different wavelengths in different ways, creating shock waves and “light echos” as shock waves re-radiate the radiation.

          • madoc62

            Excellent! Thank you for that explanation.