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Some of the most fascinating images every seen are those of nuclear explosions.
It is somehow incredibly fascinating to watch nuclear fission and/or fusion at such close quarters, especially given that until we detonated the first bomb back in the 1940s, the closest we'd ever gotten to such a reaction was the millions of miles between us and our sun.
I've watched the various nuclear test films from places such as Nevada, New Mexico and various islands around the Pacific but they're mostly all shot at 24 frames per second so the really interesting stuff is gone in the blink of an eye. What a shame.
However, Livermore labs have just released some of the high-speed footage taken of those early ground and airburst tests... and they're fascinating.
The videos have all been uploaded to their YouTube channel but be aware that they're in stunning black and white.
Yes, back in those days there was no such thing as high-speed colour photography so the footage is monochrome and a little grainy -- but never the less, still stunning in its awesomeness.
Mostly shot at 2400 FPS, it shows that most of the real action takes place in the first 100mS or so after the detonation is triggered.
There's an interesting dual-flash phenomenon visible in some of the airburst shots. This is apparently caused by a superheated shockwave from the instant of the burst that acts like a reflector, causing much of the light to be reflected back towards the explosion. Once this shockwave dissipates sufficiently then it cools and the actual light from the blast can be seen.
A rather sobering aspect of all these tests is that each and every one of them spewed toxic radioactive material into the atmosphere. I wonder how many people died of cancers that were triggered by this radiation. Sure, after it's been blown around the world by the winds it represents a tiny increase in the background level but, as we all know, there is no absolutely safe level of radiation.
I bet the illustrious leader of Northern Korea will have been one of the first to fire up his iPad and browse these videos. Teams of his best generals will have likely informed him "our bombs are much better, ours are in colour!" :-)
Note that most of these explosions are relatively small by today's standards. Some are just a few kilotons in yield. As it's been a very long time since any above-ground nuclear tests have been conducted, we have no real frames of reference for the size or devastation that a modern high-yield hydrogen (fission) bomb would produce. However, if you compare the progress made with computers in the period of 1945 to today and apply that to nuclear weaponry, I think we have grounds for concern.
Perhaps now is a good time to go watch some nuke footage because, as we have idiots with nukes playing silly sabre rattling games (oh, and Kim Jung Un too), we would do well to remind ourselves that it's only fun until someone loses an eye.
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