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Using GPS To Detect Secret Nuclear Tests

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the find-me-a-gas-station-and-some-uranium dept.

Science 54

Harperdog writes "This article details how GPS can help detect secret nuclear tests, giving the US more reason to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Here's a quote about the 2009 North Korea test: 'At the time, however, the May 25 bomb also sent a different signature, this one into the atmosphere. It did not release radioactive gas or dust, as would be the case for a bomb detonated on the Earth's surface. Rather, it released a shockwave — a bubble of disturbed air that spread out from the test site across the planet and high into the ionosphere. ... We quickly gathered data from 11 GPS receivers — six belonging to the South Korean GPS network and five belonging to the International GNSS Service and scattered around Eastern Asia. The data indicated a sudden spike in atmospheric electron density just after the underground test.'"

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Total Electron Content (5, Informative)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#37220998)

This work [ctbto.org] actually measured Total Electron Content [wikipedia.org] , not electron density (a related, but different, phenomenon).

Maps of vertical and slant atmospheric electron density over the U.S. are here [noaa.gov] .

US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (2)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221100)

The US GPS constellation (NAVSTAR) has photodetectors to detect the distinctive flash of an above-ground nuclear test [wikipedia.org] , among other detectors.

Not useful for an underground test, but a little known function nonetheless.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221342)

That's the only method I knew of detecting (out of sight) nuclear explosions until this.

Secret Nuclear Test...somehow it just doesn't sound right.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221514)

I thought we could already detect underground tests with seismographs. That was how we identified the semi-successful .5 kT NK test, and identified a previous explosion in NK of similar magnitude as being non-nuclear in origin.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#37223510)

I thought we could already detect underground tests with seismographs. That was how we identified the semi-successful .5 kT NK test, and identified a previous explosion in NK of similar magnitude as being non-nuclear in origin.

Yep, that's in TFA and in fact what they used to 'calibrate' this new system. However, having multiple methods of detecting something that people don't want to be detected is often useful.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | more than 3 years ago | (#37222312)

The Vela Hotel [wikipedia.org] and Advanced Vela satellites had photo, x-ray, neutron, and gamma ray detectors and silicon photodiodes set up as Bhangmeters [wikipedia.org] for detecting nuclear tests. Presumably those would all be outer space/atmosphere/ground explosions.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37224678)

Seismic activity, hydroacoustic activity, airborne radionuclides, and EMP emissions make completely hiding nuclear detonations anywhere on this planet pretty much impossible.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (1)

thogard (43403) | more than 3 years ago | (#37224530)

There are other detectors on Navstar as well. Part of the design criteria for the detectors was to be able to tell which side of the Berlin wall went boom first. The detectors time stamp when they detect something and send that in the data stream. In theory your car GPS could show you were bombs were going off.

Re:US GPS satellites also have photodetectors (1)

NateTech (50881) | more than 3 years ago | (#37225502)

Little-known? It's been in Clancy's books for a couple of decades, as well as many other military-thriller author's books. It's been documented six ways from sideways since way back into the Cold War.

Little-known because folks don't pay any attention at all outside of military circles, but even though it's probably still under some level of Classification, it's certainly well-known by even the laziest military-thriller or "President deals with a crisis" fictional novel reader since the late 1980's at least.

GPS over Iran? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221132)

Im sure they have their eyes over Iran to see if such anomalies rise up. It is likely they'll will also do an underground nuclear test... and then blame it on an earthquake, as the nuclear sites do lye close to fault lines...

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221462)

wow dosn't that seem to be bad planning? Just ask japan how nuclear materials and fault lines mix.

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

trum4n (982031) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221512)

Not to mention they will sink into the oil. Wait....this might be a good thing. SOMEONE GET A MOP!

Re:GPS over Iran? (2)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 3 years ago | (#37222222)

You don't seem to understand exactly what happened in japan.

Re:GPS over Iran? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37222418)

wow dosn't that seem to be bad planning? Just ask japan how nuclear materials and fault lines mix.

It's not fault lines, it's tsunamis that don't mix well with poorly designed and maintained reactors. Very different things.

I remember the controversy over the underground nuclear tests in the time leading up to the first one in Amchitka, one of the Aleutian Islands in 1965. The tests were predicted to cause major earthquakes due to the site's proximity to fault lines, with resultant tsunamis which could be devastating as far away as California, Japan and Hawaii, and volcanic eruptions - there are a number of volcanos in the Aleutian island chain. Those tectonic catastrophes between 1965 and 1971 (when US was testing at Amchitka) would make fascinating reading, if they'd occurred at all.

Perhaps another reader can provide a link to documentation of an earthquake definitely and directly linked to a nuclear test - anywhere in the world, by anybody - that caused more earth motion than the nuclear test itself.

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 3 years ago | (#37223986)

I don't disagree that it took far more then an earthquake to cause the issues in the nuclear plant, I also highly doubt Iran has 1/10th of the shielding or safety measures that the Japanese plant had.

Re:GPS over Iran? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37224768)

Modern seismology renders this pretty much a non-starter. Earthquakes and underground nuclear detonations are distinctly different events seismically.

Re:GPS over Iran? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37225894)

But are underground non-nucleair explosions similar to nucleair explosions?

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#37227066)

yes. But good luck getting a 100 thousand tons of normal explosives down a hole without anyone noticing--just to fake a nuclear bomb. It would be easier to make a real one.

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

Zen Punk (785385) | more than 3 years ago | (#37229936)

100 thousand tons? A kiloton is only one thousand tons.

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#37232986)

Nukes are not that small--about 3-5kT is the smallest and its hard to make that small. Even the first ones where about 10-25kT. And fusion needs to be bigger to work.

Re:GPS over Iran? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#37227308)

It is likely they'll will also do an underground nuclear test... and then blame it on an earthquake, as the nuclear sites do lye close to fault lines.

My school text books had long articles on how the seismic signatures of earthquakes and explosions differed.

That was in 1978.

Kim Jong-Il's reaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221140)

Here's a quote about the 2009 North Korea test: 'At the time, however, the May 25 bomb also sent a different signature, this one into the atmosphere. It did not release radioactive gas or dust, as would be the case for a bomb detonated on the Earth's surface. Rather, it released a shockwave

Kim Jong-Il's reaction [youtube.com]

AFTAC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221164)

We can already detect nuclear explosions anywhere on earth within seconds using seismographic equipment.
AFTAC's been doing it for decades.
http://www.afisr.af.mil/units/aftac/index.asp

Yeah but (1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221202)

I still have not heard any definitive proof that it was not a large about conventional explosives. There are many examples of conventional explosions large enough in the past, such as the Texas City explosion or the Lochnagar mine during WWI.

HAARP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221236)

ya just what we need more excuses for them to keep that garbage running i wish we still had htat video form 10-15 years back when the guy running it got confronted and looked so guilty after being asked if it was a weapon that they shut it down ...until sarah palin became governor for a time....its still running

Re:HAARP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221406)

Why did this get modded -1? No troll or flamebait. I thin this is slashdot employees practicing censorship.

Overkill and/or reduncancy? (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221310)

Doesn't this sound like overkill and/or reduncancy?

There must be more efficient ways, e.g. Twitter...

http://mashable.com/2011/08/25/animated-map-twitter-earthquake/ [mashable.com]

Yes, Twitter of all hyped crap.

Re:Overkill and/or reduncancy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221610)

So, you would propose watching for tweets about secret underground nuclear tests?

Re:Overkill and/or reduncancy? (2)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221726)

So, you would propose watching for tweets about secret underground nuclear tests?

Better. I'd get government funding for it. =)

Re:Overkill and/or reduncancy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37222030)

All we'd need to do is hook up north koreans to Twitter, what could possibly go wrong?

Conspiracy Theorists (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221318)

This is going to drive the 'truthers' crazy. Obviously the average person does not have access to GPS satellites, or the expertise in physics to understand the science happening here. They will equate it to 'the government' claiming that 'the enemy' has super weapons. Perhaps this is a fake-out to make us think North Korea is going to blow us up. Perhaps it's impossible to detect underground nuclear tests from space. Perhaps these tests go on all the time and they just don't tell us. You can't trust anyone these days. =)

Re:Conspiracy Theorists (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221982)

I always find comments like your funny. We know that conspiracies happen. We know that our government takes part in them. Enough of them have been uncovered to make that clear. We know that the government will use a lie about nuclear weapons as an excuse to go to war. How is your comment any less crazy than the the people you are referring to?

Re:Conspiracy Theorists (1)

LtGordon (1421725) | more than 3 years ago | (#37224920)

You assume that the United States is the only country capable of nuclear detonation monitoring.

Re:Conspiracy Theorists (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 3 years ago | (#37226012)

That was a total non sequitur.

So NK did detonate an A-Bomb (1)

weiqj (870224) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221326)

Not a failed nuke test which was played down by US and allies?

What does this have to do with the Test Ban Treaty (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221338)

I am confused as to what this has to do with the Test Ban Treaty. The primary argument against the Test Ban Treaty is that it does not allow for the testing of new designs of nuclear weapons. It, also, does not allow for the testing of existing stockpiles to see if they are still functional.
It has been U.S. policy from the beginning to maintain a nuclear stockpile that can function as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons by any and all others that have them. If the U.S. does not know whether or not their weapons are functional, why would anyone believe that they have the means to retaliate?

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (5, Informative)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221390)

When the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was formalized in 1996, the United States was among nine nations that did not ratify it. In part, US officials objected that technologies of the time were not reliable enough to ensure accurate detection of secret nuclear tests.

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (1)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221758)

Thank you. That makes the summary much more sensible.

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (1)

Symnron (1533857) | more than 3 years ago | (#37224102)

Interestingly AFTAC has been monitoring nuclear weapons testing worldwide since long before 1996 and had/has the means to measure them very accurately. Too bad the USA didn't look to its own technology(/sarcasm). Get Moose and Squirrel!

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221728)

It has nothing, but the poster has an axe to grind. I'm thoroughly sick of those "that evil nucular stuff will doom us" crowd.

Nukes, and even more, nuclear power plants, are dangerous but efficient. And that vile ban treaty is what destroyed the most promising project for interstellar travel.

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37225486)

It has nothing, but the poster has an axe to grind. I'm thoroughly sick of those "that evil nucular stuff will doom us" crowd.

Nukes, and even more, nuclear power plants, are dangerous but efficient. And that vile ban treaty is what destroyed the most promising project for interstellar travel.

Oh? Can you guarantee the security of a nuclear waste facility for 100,000 years (i.e. 10 times longer than recorded history)?

It's completely unethical to push such an imperative onto future generations when we have no system set up to manage the waste products. "Let 'em sit at the reactor sites indefinitely" isn't a system, it's a pathetic joke.

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (2)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 3 years ago | (#37221752)

> It has been U.S. policy from the beginning to maintain a nuclear stockpile that can function as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons by any and all others that have them.

To be fair, it was US policy at the beginning to build the bomb and win the second world war.

Any policies about stockpiles as a deterrent came later--I would guess the instant the Russians set off an A-bomb.

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37222166)

In the specific case of North Korea, the argument for CTBT is nonexistent. I would argue that a country with roughly $10 worth of foreign trade per annum (of course, that's the LEGAL trade, excepting the ILLEGAL trade in weapons and arms technology that would obviously not be affected--and it's not illegal for the Norks to sell, it's mostly illegal for the rest of the world to buy!), that is willing to impose depredations on its civilian population that make the Dark Ages look like a stay at a Hedonism resort and whose major "sponsor" is terrified by the prospect of a massive refugee problem if it gets markedly worse, is not subject to effective international sanctions. (Indeed, the existing sanctions on North Korea are among the most severe imposed against any post-WW II state, and look how well they worked.) Even if the Norks were signatories of such a treaty, what would any rational person suggest would compel their compliance? A sternly-worded editorial in the New York Times?

Re:What does this have to do with the Test Ban Tre (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37222738)

One of the important aspects of deterrence, true nuclear deterrence, is that there's no bluffing. No witholding of information that might allow your enemies to say "naah, they're bluffing, they can't do that." or "naah, they're bluffing, their weapons are too old and won't work." Your enemy has to really believe that you can do what you say you can do. As an example, one of the unofficial reasons, I believe, why the U.S. decided to conduct underground nuclear tests on (under?) Amchitka Island in the Aleutian Island Chain, despite it's nearness to major fault lines, bad weather conditions and remoteness. Being closer to the USSR than Nevada is, it made it easier for Soviet scientists to make accurate measurements of the size of the detonations. Being able to perform tests makes it possible to demonstrate to an enemy that the U.S. does indeed have weapons that are as big as we say and go off when we want them to.

It wouldn't be the only time the U.S. disclosed critical nuclear information to the Soviets. About the same time, give or take a few years, the U.S. declassified details of how several of it's nuclear weapon safety devices worked. The story I heard for why was that the U.S. had, somehow, discovered that Soviet nuclear weapons systems didn't have much in the way of safety devices to prevent accidental detonation - and possibly cause an accidental war. So releasing the info was another kind of deterrence.

So... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37221534)

How do I set up my Nuvi to detect bomb blasts?

Re:So... (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 3 years ago | (#37222530)

Just watch it. When it melts and catches on fire - quickly - odds are good that it detected a nuclear explosion.

Re:So... (1)

treeves (963993) | more than 3 years ago | (#37223740)

Well, on the Magellans you go to Menu...Settings...Alerts...Underground Nuclear Tests, and choose ON. Garmins might be different.

"one man's noise is another signal" (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 3 years ago | (#37222606)

As they say in the observation sciences. Its known that the position of ionosphere, humidity, atmospheric charge, etc. can affect GPS signal timing slightly. In turn these erors can be inverted (tomographically) to give maps of these phenomena.

GPS sats already used to detect nuclear detonation (2)

Symnron (1533857) | more than 3 years ago | (#37223940)

GPS satellites contain a package called NDS or Nuclear detonation Detection System. They have since the very first launch of the very first satellite. I know this because I was in the USAF and worked the ground station for NDS starting with Block 1 GPS satellites when they were just early test platforms to prove the GPS technology. So, this is absolutely nothing new to me. Sincerely, Symnron Get Moose and Squirrel!

NUDET (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#37224332)

GPS has had that capability pretty much since the beginning:
http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/getting-into-gps.html
GPS satellites don't just help you stay found. All GPS satellites since 1980 carry NUDET sensors. No, this isn't some high-tech pornography-detection system. NUDET is an acronym for NUclear DETonation; GPS satellites have sensors to detect nuclear-weapon explosions, assess the threat of nuclear attack, and help evaluate nuclear strike damage.

I guess this is the part of that complicated "how science is done" cartoon where they realize it's already been done.

This isn't NUDET, but posters have been part right (1)

JohnnyComeLately (725958) | more than 3 years ago | (#37227350)

The article is describing how you can use the receivers to determine ionospheric and other disturbances by measuring the rate of deviation in radio frequency reception. GPS and ionoshperic modeling is common in GPS to determine how much interference is affecting the timing, and so you can then measure an "approximate additional" disturbance. These are all things any civilian who is a math geek can theoretically do.

What is being described here, AFTAC and NUDET, are onlyp performed by military organizations. On GPS there are two bands for civilian use, since the beginning, which is L1 and L2. The above techniques use those (L1 and 2). NUDET payload, which is a tertiary mission of GPS, has many sensors which then send the data via L3 to AFTAC. It's been about 15 years since I was a GPS satellite operator, so there may be additional sensors, but at the Block 1, 2 and 2A generations, you had optical (BDP), X-ray (BDX), and dosimeters (BDD), to name a few. The satellite in view will accumulate the data, and then cross-link them to every GPS satellite in view. Those satellites will downlink via L3. The logic is that no matter which satellite in the 24 constellation, through cross linking at least one will then send it to Shreiver AFB where AFTAC is located (actually was inside the 2 SOPS GPS ops MOD during the 90s). The NUDET data is entirely for Test Ban Treaty enforcement and not early warning. So this is why I laughed after the N. Korea test when the official stance was, "We don't know." I promise you from all the sensors we have, space, ground and sea based, we know exceptionally precisely what, where and how big it was. We just won't release it, giving the enemy a glimpse into our capabilities. Those from a political and military stand point that have a need to know, do.

WMDs (1)

ChocNut (791621) | more than 3 years ago | (#37228364)

Can someone explain to me why North Korea is allowed to test nuclear bombs in full view of the planet but trillions were spent on wiping out a mere hint of WMDs in Iraq?
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