Fun with Nukes: Unusual Explosions

Ransom Riggs

Maybe it's the apocalyptic mood everyone seems to be in lately -- just look at how many of this summer's blockbusters feature the End of Everything -- or North Korea's increasingly bellicose nuke-talk (are they really going to shoot a missile at Hawaii this Saturday?) but lately I've found myself checking out vintage (and some not-so-vintage) footage of nuclear bombs exploding on YouTube, and it's really hypnotic stuff. Soothing almost. (Hey, at least the end of the world will look cool.) I also discovered a few nuclear devices I didn't know existed. Like --

The Nuclear Rifle

Known as the "Davy Crockett," it's the smallest tactical nuke ever built, developed (but never deployed) in the 50s for use by field troops in a potential ground invasion. Part of the thinking was that in addition to the destructive power of the explosion itself, the fallout from the nuclear rifle's blast would halt enemy troop advance for a few days (as soldiers sickened with radiation poisoning aren't much good to either side), long enough to call in NATO reinforcements. The trouble was, the Davy Crockett's firing range was just three miles, which wouldn't get the nuke far enough away from the side that had fired it to protect them from nuclear fallout.

The Atomic Cannon

Designed to fire 4.5-foot-long nuclear payloads, "Atomic Annie" was tested only once, and despite impressive results, the device was (thankfully) never used in actual combat. Here's an amazing video of the May, 1953 test.

Tsar Bomba

The largest nuke ever detonated was the Russians' "Tsar Bomba," a 50 megaton monster hydrogen bomb, and its test in 1961 marked the single most powerful physical event ever triggered by humans in the history of the world. A few numbers to put things in perspective:

"¢Â The mushroom cloud was 40 miles high, seven times higher than Everest.
"¢ The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 62 miles from ground zero.
"¢ It broke windows in Sweden, more than 600 miles from the Arctic test range.
"¢ Its power output was equal to about 1.5% of the sun's.

The Soviets brought along a few film cameras during the test, so we can watch the results.

Underground nuclear detonation

At the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, a good portion of the thousands of nuke tests done over the years have been underground. Ever wondered what a nuke detonated underground looks like from the surface? As you'll see in this video, it's pretty remarkable. Watch the skin of the earth deform more and more -- rising 290 feet -- before finally breaking open. Amazing.

Underwater nuclear detonation

Nuclear-armed submarines have been carting nukes around the world's oceans for decades now, but have you ever seen one of their payloads explode underwater? Here are two tests from the 1960s.

In this video, a massive tidal wave caused by the explosion capsizes a battleship in the foreground. Wow.

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