62 Never-Before-Seen Nuclear Test Videos Have Been Uploaded to YouTube

Keystone, Getty Images
Keystone, Getty Images

Nuclear testing is rare today, but at its peak it wasn’t unusual for 100 bombs to be detonated in a single year. Many of those explosions were captured on tape, and today the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is working to restore the rare footage and share it with the public. As Paleofuture reports, 62 newly declassified test films have just been released as part of the project.

The clips, once considered sensitive government material, are now available on YouTube for anyone to see. They date from the 1940s to the early 1960s and depict atmospheric explosions, a practice that ended in 1962. The U.S. signed a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in 1963.

Many of the tapes have been rotting away in government storage facilities after years of neglect. Some films have degraded beyond repair, but most of the dirty, aged material can be salvaged.

"Back in the 1950s they were analyzing frame by frame manually, so the frames were marked with tape so they could keep track," Jim Moye, a rare film expert at the lab, tells Mental Floss. "The tape has to be removed and the adhesive cleaned off. The film is then run through an ultrasonic film cleaner. Then it’s ready for scanning." By cleaning and creating exact copies of the old film, the team is able to preserve that chapter in history for future generations.

Weapon physicist Greg Spriggs is leading the laboratory’s effort to preserve the tapes. The restored films are meant to be seen by the general public, but there’s another audience Spriggs and his team have in mind: other scientists. Today, any nuclear tests conducted by the government are generated by computers. By studying footage from actual explosions, scientists are able to program more accurate models. "Because the United States no longer tests nuclear weapons, it is absolutely essential that we preserve (and improve) these data so that we can continue to study nuclear weapons and their effects," Spriggs tells Mental Floss.

The lab released an initial batch of videos earlier this year, prior to the recent collection shared in December. With thousands of films still left to analyze and restore, viewers can expect a lot more nuclear test content in the coming years.

[h/t Paleofuture]

On This Day in 1953, Jonas Salk Announced His Polio Vaccine

Getty Images
Getty Images

On March 26, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk went on CBS radio to announce his vaccine for poliomyelitis. He had worked for three years to develop the polio vaccine, attacking a disease that killed 3000 Americans in 1952 alone, along with 58,000 newly reported cases. Polio was a scourge, and had been infecting humans around the world for millennia. Salk's vaccine was the first practical way to fight it, and it worked—polio was officially eliminated in the U.S. in 1979.

Salk's method was to kill various strains of the polio virus, then inject them into a patient. The patient's own immune system would then develop antibodies to the dead virus, preventing future infection by live viruses. Salk's first test subjects were patients who had already had polio ... and then himself and his family. His research was funded by grants, which prompted him to give away the vaccine after it was fully tested.

Clinical trials of Salk's vaccine began in 1954. By 1955 the trials proved it was both safe and effective, and mass vaccinations of American schoolchildren followed. The result was an immediate reduction in new cases. Salk became a celebrity because his vaccine saved so many lives so quickly.

Salk's vaccine required a shot. In 1962, Dr. Albert Sabin unveiled an oral vaccine using attenuated (weakened but not killed) polio virus. Sabin's vaccine was hard to test in America in the late 1950s, because so many people had been inoculated using the Salk vaccine. (Sabin did much of his testing in the Soviet Union.) Oral polio vaccine, whether with attenuated or dead virus, is still the preferred method of vaccination today. Polio isn't entirely eradicated around the world, though we're very close.

Here's a vintage newsreel from the mid 1950s telling the story:

For more information on Dr. Jonas Salk and his work, click here.

Drunken Thieves Tried Stealing Stones From Notre-Dame

Athanasio Gioumpasis, Getty Images

With Paris, France, joining a long list of locales shutting down due to coronavirus, two thieves decided the time was right to attempt a clumsy heist—stealing stones from the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The crime occurred last Tuesday, March 17, and appeared from the start to be ill-conceived. The two intruders entered the cathedral and were immediately spotted by guards, who phoned police. When authorities found them, the trespassers were apparently drunk and attempting to hide under a tarpaulin with a collection of stones they had taken from the premises. Both men were arrested.

It’s believed the offenders intended to sell the material for a profit. Stones from the property sometimes come up for sale on the black market, though most are fake.

The crime comes as Paris is not only dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but a massive effort to restore Notre-Dame after the cathedral was ravaged by a fire in 2019. That work has come to a halt in the wake of the health crisis, though would-be looters should take note that guards still patrol the property.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]