“In the early hours of October 30, 1961, a bomber took off from an airstrip in northern Russia and began its flight through cloudy skies over the frigid Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya,” writes the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Slashdot reader DanDrollette (who is also the deputy editor of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) shares their report on “The secret history of the world’s largest nuclear detonation, coming to light after 60 years.”
Slung below the plane’s belly was a nuclear bomb the size of a small school bus — the largest and most powerful bomb ever created.
At 11:32 a.m., the bombardier released the weapon. As the bomb fell, an enormous parachute unfurled to slow its descent, giving the pilot time to retreat to a safe distance. A minute or so later, the bomb detonated. A cameraman watching from the island recalled:
A fire-red ball of enormous size rose and grew. It grew larger and larger, and when it reached enormous size, it went up. Behind it, like a funnel, the whole earth seemed to be drawn in. The sight was fantastic, unreal, and the fireball looked like some other planet. It was an unearthly spectacle…!
Within ten minutes, it had reached a height of 42 miles and a diameter of some 60 miles. One civilian witness remarked that it was “as if the Earth was killed.” Decades later, the weapon would be given the name it is most commonly known by today: Tsar Bomba, meaning “emperor bomb….” at 50 megatons, it was more than 3,300 times as powerful as the atomic bomb that killed at least 70,000 people in Hiroshima, and more than 40 times as powerful as the largest nuclear bomb in the US arsenal today. Its single test represents about one tenth of the total yield of all nuclear weapons ever tested by all nations…
Within two years, though, the Soviet Union and the United States would sign and ratify the Limited Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, and the 50-megaton bomb would fall into relative obscurity.
Drollette notes that “The United States dismissed the gigantic Tsar Bomba as a stunt, but behind the scenes it was working to build a ‘superbomb’ of its own.”
The article argues there a lesson for our times in the 1961 episode, calling it “a potent example of how nationalism, fear, and high-technology can combine in a fashion that is ultimately dangerous, wasteful, and pointless.”
of this story at Slashdot.