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The Military

The Real Mother of All Bombs, 46 Years Ago 526

vaporland writes "Tsar Bomba is the Western name for the RDS-220, the largest, most powerful weapon ever detonated. The bomb was tested on October 30, 1961, in an archipelago in the Arctic Sea. Developed by the Soviet Union, the bomb had a yield of about 50 megatons. Its detonation released energy equivalent to approximately 1% of the power output of the Sun for 39 nanoseconds of its detonation. The device was scaled down from its original design of 100 megatons to reduce the resulting nuclear fallout. The Tsar Bomba qualifies as the single most powerful device ever utilized throughout the history of humanity."
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The Real Mother of All Bombs, 46 Years Ago

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  • by TobyRush ( 957946 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:35AM (#21180403) Homepage

    The Tsar Bomba qualifies as the single most powerful device ever utilized throughout the history of humanity.
    I don't know... my money's still on the pen.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:53AM (#21180489)
      Penis mightier.
    • Printing press?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by raphae ( 754310 )

      I don't know... my money's still on the pen.

      It was heartening to see such encouraging words after watching that horrific video which made me want to cry just thinking about how profanely humans have abused this ancient, loving Earth we have inherited.

      I also believe "The pen is mightier than the sword" and that, indeed, one day righteousnes, wisdom, and courage will prevail over ignorance, fear, and greed.
      • by JonathanR ( 852748 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:21AM (#21180633)
        Yeah. Think of all those forests laid waste to accommodate your bloody writing implement.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by afidel ( 530433 )
          Eh? It's not so much the forests (the wood pulp for paper tends to come from quick growing farmed trees) but the streams and rivers that suffer from paper production, both from the paper production process and from the fertilizers used in the tree farms.
      • by KDR_11k ( 778916 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:29AM (#21180653)
        The pen is mightier than the sword: Often propaganda will work better than overt force. Shackle a man's hands and he will try to break free, shackle his mind and he will never consider it.

        This is the reason I consider false or sensationalist news more dangerous to the wellbeing of society than terrorism.
        • Neither is mightier, just different tools for different situations which can be used together for greater effect.

          Shackle a man's hands and shoot him in the head and he won't try to break free either then use propaganda to state that the man was a child molester.
        • by AbbyNormal ( 216235 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @09:19AM (#21182723) Homepage
          True, but if Tsar Bomba makes a man's country turn into glass, I think we could notch that as a win for the bomb.
      • by DarkShadeChaos ( 954173 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @04:20AM (#21180835)
        You're selling Penis Mightier? ... you're sitting on a goldmine Trebek!
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @04:48AM (#21180945)

        It was heartening to see such encouraging words after watching that horrific video which made me want to cry just thinking about how profanely humans have abused this ancient, loving Earth we have inherited.
        Ancient, loving Earth that we have inherited? Are you kidding me? You could argue the first point, but the last two are absurd. There is no Gaia, and the Earth does not have a soul. The Earth is only a very big rock with a layer of pond scum on it. It doesn't love you any more than your pet rock does. And we haven't inherited the Earth any more than the pond scum have inherited a rock they happen to be clinging to.

        Enough with this stupid Gaia superstition and quasi-religion! The planet Earth does not care whether you exist or not. It will not protect you. And it is not holy. It is just a rock. The real loss if we hurt the environment of this planet is not some spiritual entity. It is the potential loss of knowledge for us humans. But once that level of knowledge is reasonably complete and humans can survive without the Earth, this planet will only have sentimental value and it will not matter whether we mine it to the core or use it as a testbed for nuclear weapons.
        • by Nazlfrag ( 1035012 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:47AM (#21181223) Journal
          Is it really that hard to grasp that the Gaia concept is a metaphor for our incredibly complex and precious biosphere. It bloody well is holy because this rock is our symbiote, our petri dish. Fuck it up and we're toast. So yeah, anthropomorphising the planet makes perfect sense. Sentimental value my arse, if we keep poisoning and harvesting the planet to extinction life as we know it will cease to exist. Mining it to the core or testing nuclear weapons is literally killing the planets lifeforce. The only stupidity is your ignorance in thinking humanity can survive outside of the fertile lifestream that birthed it.
          • by Hijacked Public ( 999535 ) * on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @07:45AM (#21181779)
            I took the parent as taking issue with the 'loving' part than with the anthropomorphic tone of the OP.

            My favorite 'mother earth' quote, from someone who was out in it quite a bit:

            "...nature is a stern, hard, immovable and terrible in her unrelenting cruelty. When wintry winds are out and the mercury far below zero she will allow her most ardent lover to freeze to her snowy breast without waving a single leaf in pity, or offering him a match; and scores of her devotees may starve to death in as many languages before she will offer a loaf of bread."

            That from Nessmuk.

            I'm from the Aldo Leopold school of conservation, I don't want to poison the air and water and cut down all the trees. But I also know, from various somewhat narrow escapes, that regardless of the cartoon face stuck on nature, it wants to crunch up my bones and return them to the soil and only by my wits or by erecting technological barriers do I keep that from happening.

            Entropy and all that. Nature is a big promoter of entropy.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Lord Ender ( 156273 )
            "lifeforce?" "lifestream?" Are you just making up words? Of COURSE we could survive outside this planet, given sufficient technology. All we theoretically need to survive is neutrons, protons, electrons, and energy. With that those four things and enough knowledge, we could build anything we need.

            The GP is right. We aren't there yet, but we will be if we don't kill ourselves first. The Earth is the cradle of the mind, but one can not eternally live in a cradle.

            The analogies about nuclear explosions "raping"
        • Re: "Loving Earth" (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Neuticle ( 255200 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @06:02AM (#21181307) Homepage
          Bravo, AC, Bravo. I was going to say much the same thing, albeit maybe less bluntly. However, I would add this to the above:

          Everyone I have heard espouse the "loving Earth/Gaia" bit lives a comfortable, relatively modern life. Mother Earth loves you plenty when you have electricity, running water and stores full of food.

          Take that away and get real close to Mother Earth. I've been there: Mother Earth may still love you, but the bitch will try her best to kill you at every opportunity.
      • by Yetihehe ( 971185 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:24AM (#21181055)

        I also believe "The pen is mightier than the sword"
        Obligatory quote from Terry Pratchett: *Only when sword is very dull and pen is very sharp.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hal_Porter ( 817932 )

        I don't know... my money's still on the pen.

        It was heartening to see such encouraging words after watching that horrific video which made me want to cry just thinking about how profanely humans have abused this ancient, loving Earth we have inherited.

        I also believe "The pen is mightier than the sword" and that, indeed, one day righteousnes, wisdom, and courage will prevail over ignorance, fear, and greed.

        Oh for God's sake. If you want to survive as a civilisation you need both happy civilised artists and big motherfucking bombs. And you need people who are willing to use those bombs too if there is no alternative like the US and UK did in WWII. Otherwise predatory neighbouring civilisations which have bombs but no artists will take over, enslave all the artists and that will be the end of things.

        It happened to Athens, and it happened to most of the European democracies in WWII. There are probably lots of e

      • by Atzanteol ( 99067 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @08:55AM (#21182391) Homepage

        ancient, loving Earth

        Tough love.... [] [] [] []
        etc. etc.

        Hey Nancy boy, maybe the Earth is trying to tell you to man-up?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      alright - i'll take the nuke & you take the pen. we'll see who wins.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Entropius ( 188861 )
        Oppenheimer et al. wouldn't have worked out how to make a nuke if they didn't have pens.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bearhouse ( 1034238 )
          Then perhaps it's a shame they did...
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jamstar7 ( 694492 )
            "The other guys" were trying to develope their own bomb. The United States just got there first.
      • by Mr2cents ( 323101 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:06AM (#21181011)

        alright - i'll take the nuke & you take the pen. we'll see who wins.
        I suspect that you'll see the flaw in your plan by the time I'm banging your head against the wall to see if I can get that pen any further up your nose..
    • Another chapter in the ridiculous history of 20th century warfare was the development of bat-mounted bombs for use against the Japanese - read all about it [].

      The interesting thing is that they were actually looking to be reasonably effective - so much so that they destroyed the testing facility. Unfortunately for the Japanese and the program, the atomic bomb was perfected before frozen bats could be deployed for use in warfare.

      There is no limit to the insane plans the world's armed forces will try.
    • by smilindog2000 ( 907665 ) <> on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:43AM (#21180703) Homepage
      I just finished reading "A Brief History of Rome" (free e-book from Throughout, the 19th-century author kept referring to "Barbarians" and "Civilization". I eventually figured out that the difference was literacy (the pen). The Romans inflicted both the pen, and Christianity on the world. The author seemed to think both were true gifts, but I noticed that the downfall of Rome started in earnest with Constantine, who converted them empire's faith, and that the dark-ages followed shortly after. Coincidence? I doubt it. Wikipedia has a great article on it. [] Just my own two-cents, but a corrupt society built on slavery and the spoils of war needed the old religion and an all-powerful emperor to survive. So... which is more powerful, the pen, or religion?
      • by mike2R ( 721965 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @04:21AM (#21180841)
        Just to point out that if you read a modern study of the fall of the Empire in the west you will find a very different set of explanations. Why the Empire fell is one of the "big questions" for historians and current answers don't bare much resemblance to those of the nineteenth century.

        When I was a history undergraduate, I remember one of my lecturers saying he thought it was a question that frequently said more about the writer than anything else; eg in the immediate post-war period historians concentrated on the external military pressures of the "barbarians" (it's a Roman word). Later historians turned more to ideas of internal factors such as the increased tax burden on local elites and the Empire allowing barbarian auxiliaries to settle within the empire's borders under their own leaders.
        • by phaunt ( 1079975 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @06:37AM (#21181441)

          [...] the external military pressures of the "barbarians" (it's a Roman word).
          Actually, it's a Greek word: people whose speech goes like "bar bar" and can't be understood.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bozdune ( 68800 )
          There was also a recent theory that it was plain old malaria that did them in, attacking from Africa through Sicily and finally arriving with a vengeance on the coastal plains and marshes. The death rate was horrific, and general panic ensued, since the disease vector was mysterious. Barbarian raiders supposedly reported "no resistance" when landing at previously well-defended port cities.

          You seem to know what you're talking about -- any merit to the above?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by AVee ( 557523 )

        So... which is more powerful, the pen, or religion?
        Well, there are some known cases of religious organisations are spreading pens...
      • by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:26AM (#21181067) Homepage
        Rome pre-Christianity was not unified by a single religion, it was a melange of different religions. And Rome was more of a "spoils of war" based society when it was a Republic, not when it was led by an all-powerful emperor - at least after AD 100 or so. If you say it's all-powerful - all the constant assassinations showed that emperors had a check on their power from angry mobs and the military, whereas despotic Chinese leaders could rule with relative impunity for long stretches of the Chinese Empire.

        The idea that the fall of the Roman Empire started with Constantine is completely ludicrous and obviously is more influenced by your anti-Christian beliefs than an honest view of history. He expanded the empire, consistently beat back Germanic tribes, and led to the empire's split into halves, with the Eastern half lasting a thousand years longer.

        Writing = civilization? While there's an obvious correlation, not quite. All the Germanic tribes by the fall of Rome had adopted scripts of their own. Anyway the judgment obviously had a lot more to do with 19th century ethos than anything else.

        Christianity was employed against the enemy - Rome pursued a policy of converting Germanic tribes to a Rome-centered Christianity, to make them more dependent towards Rome. So in that sense, Christianity probably prolonged the empire.

        It seems you read history books for the sole purpose of re-enforcing your own prejudices, and don't actually absorb any of it. Why do you even bother reading?

    • You will find, if you go back through the history, that sentance was written by me on 4/22/06. I of course meant it in the literal, physical energy related sense rather than in any metaphorical sense. However, if one considers the situation for a moment, I believe that it may also be argued to be true in the metaphorical sense as well. Everyone agrees that nuclear weapons are the most heinous, disgusting, inhuman devices ever created, but it would be laughable folly to blame the scientists who created them.
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @09:04AM (#21182513) Homepage Journal
      I was an MIT undergrad when Ronald Reagan came into office. The Reagan administration was a boon to certain types of research, and a bust for others. There was an enormous shift in emphasis towards research that could be weaponized.

      I remember a scientist who joined the project I was working on. He had headed a small lab elsewhere at MIT as a principal investigator, but he signed on to our project as an engineer because research money had dried up. He brought with him this odd stainless steel apparatus that looked like a mutated, high tech water main. We were using it as small vacuum tank. I asked him what the thing was built to do, and he told me that it was a new kind of electron microscope he had invented that could make images showing the distribution of the different kinds of atomic nuclei in the thing being imaged.

      "Wow, that's very interesting," I said.

      "It is," he replied, "but it was funded on an ONR grant, and they're not funding that kind of research any more. Back in the old days," he went on, "I'd have told them it was a death ray. It's all those damned ROTC engineering grads," he sighed. "About the only way you could kill somebody with this is to drop it on him from a high place. Those guys aren't physicists, but they know a death ray when they see one. All they want to talk about is deaths per dollar."

      The deaths per dollar metric fascinated me. Later I brought it up with some of my friends back at the dorm, and we kicked around the question of how various methods of manslaughter stacked up. The idea of blowing up the famous "Corita" LNG tanks near Boston was popular, until we fetched some Chem E majors who told us about the eight hundred reasons that you couldn't kill more than a handful of people that way.

      Finally, I hit upon an unbeatable method when it comes to deaths per dollar. Go to a construction site, and root through the dumpster until you get a nice section of 2x4 about five feet long. Then walk down the street and beat everybody you meet to death with it.

      "But," they protested, "that's assuming that your time is free."

      "This is a government project," I replied. "To a first approximation staff time is free. We just take all the resources not engaged in productive activity -- that is producing deaths -- and treat them as slack."
  • Nah. (Score:4, Funny)

    by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <> on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:49AM (#21180463) Homepage Journal
    Vista's still a bigger bomb.
  • video here (Score:5, Informative)

    by gambolt ( 1146363 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:50AM (#21180469)
    Streaming flash video of detonation: []
  • test? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:54AM (#21180497)
    they are always labeled a "test". what exactly were they testing?

    that they can make a bloody big bang?

    what the after effect were?

    ..or they they could go one step further in a foolish session of bloody pointless political brinkmanship?

    I always thought with nuclear weapons, that really after a certain size there were precious little point is making it more powerful.
    • They don't test nuclear weapons, those were perfected in the 60s. What they do test are weapons against mutated superants and megaspiders. And since you need a nuclear explosion to get those in the first place...
    • Re:test? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rwven ( 663186 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:10AM (#21180571)
      They're testing the effects of shockwaves, which types of light and how much of them are emitted in the blast, what exactly goes on (at the visible and molecular level) in the milliseconds after detonation, and PLENTY of other things. They were also testing new bomb designs and making sure they worked.

      Regardless of what conspiracy theorist ideas you may have, they didn't spend billions developing these bombs, and then cause lots of (localized) damage testing them just for the pretty fireworks show. The tests DID have a point.

      Not that I'm saying I LIKE the idea that the things are hanging around anymore. The idea that one bomb could kill millions and the idiotic world leaders wave them around like a revolver in the hands of a drunk is just a little on the "what the hades, are you totally insane??" side of things. It's a sad state of affairs we live in when people talk about "nukes for nukes" instead of the lives of the people that would be vaporized without a chance. If you've gotta use weapons, make them conventional or there won't be much of a world left to argue over...yaknow?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Lavene ( 1025400 )

      they are always labeled a "test". what exactly were they testing?

      that they can make a bloody big bang?
      The word 'test' in this context really means: "Look what we can do!" Nuclear deterrent in practice. The whole idea behind nuclear weapons is to discourage your enemy from attacking so you want them to see exactly what you can do to them. It's a scary tactic but it seem to have worked... so far...
    • Re:test? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:17AM (#21180619)

      I always thought with nuclear weapons, that really after a certain size there were precious little point is making it more powerful.

      You got that right. This is why modern weapons don't even go above one megaton. Instead you load multiple warheads that are "only" a few hundred kilotons into a single missile. Of course, this is pretty much overkill as well, because quite frankly, a "small" number of warheads will be quite sufficient as a deterrent. The chance that somebody will attack you if they know they will get 50 nukes flying right back at them is not very much greater than if they are going to get 400 nukes back in their face. Now, to put this into perspective, the US has more than 5000 warheads in service, and more than 9000 stockpiled. Russia has close to 6000 in service, and 16000 stockpiled. The UK has 750 in service, France has 350, and China some 130. India has about 80, Pakistan about 10, and Israel is suspected to have between 100-300.

      Thus in total there are some 10.000 warheads in service in the world, which works out to about 100 nukes per country. As anybody with half a brain can see, this is absolutely silly. The larger nuclear powers could cut their arsenals by a factor of 10, and they would still have several hundred nukes in service as a deterrent.
    • Re:test? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:45AM (#21180707)
      They are testing new materials and designs of the electronics and radioactive materials used. Some tests do fail or exceed expectations. Something like the George" shot, was physics experiment relating to the hydrogen bomb.

      Buster-Jangle-Able was a fizzile with a one kilogram yield, but with alot of radiation.

      The American test, Castle Bravo, yielded almost double the expected yield.

      Castle Bravo didn't use cryogenic boosters for its fusion phase, so it lead to the developable and miniaturization of the hydrogen bomb (Fission-Fusion and Fission-Fusion-Fusion)

      Then you tested to make sure entire systems world, like Grable of the Upshot-Knothole test was a nuclear weapon fired from a 280mm artillery piece and became the proof shot for the entire like of American nuclear artillery rounds.

      Then also from tests at different altitudes they've learned to optimize the device's explosion altitude so smaller devices can be deployed.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @02:59AM (#21180525)
    It was a show. One could say one of the most spectacular special effects ever made.

    That baby weighed about 30 tons. The Tupulev that carried it to its destination had its bomb bays open and some fuel tanks removed to fit that thing somehow into its belly. Though it could be carried anywhere within Russia, an intercontinental strike with it was impossible.

    No, ICBMs couldn't carry it either. By far not. The R9 [], which just came into production in 61, could carry less than 2 tons.

    The idea behind the Tsar (besides proving who has the biggest) was to compensate for inaccurate targeting. The goal was a bomb that could level a town even if dropped miles away (because the bomber was about to be shot down, or because the pilot had better things to do, like avoiding being shot down, than aiming accurately). It was quickly abandoned when ICBM targeting became accurate enough to ensure you could level whatever target you want to strike. And MIRVs offer much more destruction per ton carried.

    In its core, it was a propaganda stunt. Another chapter in the dick-comparing story between Russia and the USA.
    • "Though it could be carried anywhere within Russia, an intercontinental strike with it was impossible"

      You're right, though I suspect it could have made a real mess of either London or Paris, both also nuclear powers and 'enemies' of the Sovs. at the time...
  • 1% of the power output of the Sun for 39 nanoseconds
    While that is an impressive number why not just say "The power output of the Sun for .39 nanoseconds" or is 39 nanoseconds the duration of the nuclear reaction?
    • Re:Geewhiz numbers (Score:5, Informative)

      by csirac ( 574795 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:35AM (#21180679)
      Because the statement that it would be equivalent to "The power output of the Sun for .39 nanoseconds" is misleading.

      Don't get distracted by the 39ns figure. Power is an instantaneous quantity - it is a rate at which energy is transmitted. They are saying that the bomb sustained a level of power (rate of energy) output and held it there for a period of time - 39 ns - that approached 1% of the sun.

      I repeat: 39ns is just the period of time that the power level peaked for. They calculated that the amplitude of the power peak itself, was equivalent to 1% the power output of the sun.

      We don't care about how long the peak lasted for, the 39ns, unless you start integrating power over time as you just did, in which case you're comparing a quantity of energy, rather than a rate of energy output. Yes, I suppose you could say that 39ns @ 1% sun power is equivalent to an amount of energy produced by the sun in 0.39ns, but that's not the interesting number here, because we could similarly integrate just about any huge power source over a long enough interval of time (hours, days, years, whatever) to come up with "the same amount of energy output by the sun over 39 ns".

      So the interesting number is in this case, yes, that the actual instantaneous absolute power output of the bomb approached 1% of that of the sun, albeit for only 39 ns.

      Quite remarkable...
  • Not the biggest built. Rumor has it that both the USSR and the USA built 1GT weapons in the mid 1960's. It really doesn't take that much to expand a conventional Hydrogen warhead to a tertiary. Both were built, "Just in case." I don't think we'll ever know just how close we came to vaporizing each other.
    • I don't think we'll ever know just how close we came to vaporizing each other.
      Is it possible to get closer than we did with this []?
  • by $criptah ( 467422 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:11AM (#21180579) Homepage
    Given the history of Soviet nuclear testing (or perfection), I am happy that they managed to find a remote spot and not blow up their own like they did in Kazakhstan []. Also, I am thankful that this "my penis is bigger than yours" race is over. Things could have been a lot worse.
  • "The Tsar Bomba qualifies as the single most powerful device ever utilized throughout the history of humanity."

    I believe my wife would argue that the cheap freezer chili burritos occasionally eaten by her husband would easily defeat any such device.

    And I'm pretty sure the cats agree, too... how my wife puts up with me, I shall never understand.
  • Somebody (Score:4, Funny)

    by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @03:39AM (#21180683) Homepage Journal
    set up us the Tsara Bomba!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    My sense of scale must be off; I would've thought 1% of the Sun's power could instantly reduce the Earth to a barren rock. Surely the Sun is well over 100 times larger than the Earth?
  • Don't try this at home, kids..
  • You gotta love nuclear bombs. It'll vaporise you no matter who you are. An old grandma, a kid playing in her yard, a dad leaving for work, a mom washing the dishes. A student graduating from college. A bird in a tree. A doctor saving a life. All gone in quite literally a flash.

    Really and honestly, what purpose can a 50-megatonne thermonuclear bomb really serve, except to say, "My power to vaporise millions of innocent people is greater than your power..."? While perhaps impressive from a scientific point of view, there is no practical use for nukes other than to annihilate civilization as we know it.

    Yes, leave it to the governments of the world to protect us and keep us "safe". "Safe" as in safely glowing in your grave.

    • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @05:11AM (#21181023)
      If the population know they're going to be vaporised when the government goes to war, they'll become far more concerned with the politicians preponderance for going to war in the first place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dread_ed ( 260158 )
      I would rather be vaporised than covered in napalm or thermite. I would also opt for vaporization over beheading or being skinned alive.

      At different times in history, all of the methods of destruction I mention abouve have been applied indiscriminately to kill "innocent people."

      Lets face it, nukes really are the kinder and gentler weapon of war.
  • by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @07:08AM (#21181575) Homepage Journal
    ... a while back. Some of what's in the essay you'll find quite chilling. My I present to you my very own peace-activism site:

    Yeah, I was pretty surprised the domain was available too.

    I plan to add some stuff about the Cuban Missile Crisis sometime soon, such as a wild bear wandering onto a US Air Force Base with the result that a fighter squadron armed with - ready for it? - nuclear air-to-air missiles was scrambled, and would have taken off had not the base commander blocked the runway with his own car.

    The idea behind what one pilot described as "the dumbest weapon ever invented" was to fire a rocket armed with a nuclear bomb into the general vicinity of a soviet bomber. The blast would be big enough that the bomber would be destroyed even if the rocket didn't get very close. It's not quite clear what would become of the American or Canadian citizens on the ground beneath the detonation.

    There's lots more, but I have to do it in little pieces or the I start wanting to crawl out of my own skin.

  • The Doomsday Bomb (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelCrawford ( 610140 ) on Wednesday October 31, 2007 @07:48AM (#21181799) Homepage Journal
    I'd heard about the Cobalt bomb in, off all places, the Planet of the Apes movies, but I figured it was just science fiction, and not a real weapon, a single instance of which could wipe out all life on Earth.

    But I was wrong.

    I don't recall now who invented it, but the idea was to surround a large hydrogen bomb was a casing of non-radioactive Cobalt. The fusion reaction produces a neutron or so for each helium atom created. In a conventional hydrogen bomb, these neutrons are used directly to cause damage, by irradiating living things. But in a Cobalt bomb...

    The neutrons are absorbed by the Cobalt, to become the highly radioactive gamma ray emmitter Cobalt-60. It gets vaporized by the blast, and largely blown into the upper atmosphere.

    Most radioactive fallout from an H-bomb has a very short half life, which is why those who escape the blast can safely emerge from their fallout shelters in a couple weeks. Not so with Cobalt-60: it has a half-life of several years.

    That's long enough to enable to vaporized Cobalt-60 to spread via air currents all over the Earth, eventually to be caught up in raindrops and thereby fallen to the Earth.

    Where it will irradiate everyone with a lethal gamma dose.

    It was envisioned as a spoiler, to be detonated by the loser in a nuclear war. It would need to be a pretty big bomb, on the scale of Tsar Bomba, but it wouldn't need to be delivered, just detonated in place. It will kill everyone eventually, except maybe those in deep underground shelters, who manage to stay there for decades.

    It's inventions like this by my colleagues that make me ashamed to have a degree in Physics.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The cobalt dirty bomb was basically a bluff by the United States in a very Strangelovian manner. The military leadership was able to convince everyone that the Russians had a huge nuclear warhead advantage over the United States. Afraid that the Commies were going to destroy America, we said that we would end life on this planet if we were attacked. The nasty part about the device is that it's fallout had a half-life that was short enough so it could release its radiation in a sustained fatal dose (radioact

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.