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50th Anniversary of the Starfish Prime Nuclear Weapon Test Today

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the big-boom dept.

The Military 190

The Bad Astronomer writes "50 years ago today, the U.S. detonated a nuclear weapon 240 miles above the Pacific Ocean. Called Starfish Prime, it was supposed to help U.S. scientists and the military understand how the Soviets might try to stop incoming nuclear missiles. What it actually did was blow out hundreds of streetlights in Hawaii 900 miles away, damage a half dozen satellites, and create artificial aurorae and intense radiation zones above the Earth. It taught the world what an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) was, and what the effects might be from a powerful solar flare, a nearby supernova, or a gamma-ray burst."

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Sounds like fun! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40593715)

Let's do it again!

Re:Sounds like fun! (5, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593799)

I know!

What it actually did was blow out hundreds of streetlights in Hawaii 900 miles away, damage a half dozen satellites, and create artificial aurorae and intense radiation zones above the Earth.

Sounds like a successful test to me. :-) Assuming they were testing for AWESOMENESS!

There was only ONE! (4, Funny)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594073)

blow out hundreds of streetlights

Sounds like an immortal got his head chopped off that day.

Re:There was only ONE! (2)

zlives (2009072) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594481)

really makes you wish... there was only the one :)

Re:There was only ONE! (2)

DroolTwist (1357725) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594861)

It was actually a magic missile! They were attacking the darkness!

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

A10Mechanic (1056868) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595567)

Wow. I totally heard that in the voice of Sterling Archer. I may need to watch less television...

Re:Sounds like fun! (4, Funny)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593963)

I shudder to think of how much atmosphere, ozone, and other vital systems in our atmosphere might have been burned up by these tests.

After all, Nuclear testing is what killed off the Martians,and made mars such an inhospitable wasteland...

Re:Sounds like fun! (0)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594097)

You know atmosphere + sunlight makes more ozone, right? Wait... Martains? WTF?

Re:Sounds like fun! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594777)

You know atmosphere + sunlight makes more ozone, right? Wait... Martains? WTF?

Good catch! You're quite observant. He clearly meant the dinosaurs.

Re:Sounds like fun! (5, Funny)

metalgamer84 (1916754) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594839)

Dinosaurs aren't real, they were just made up to discourage time travelers.

Re:Sounds like fun! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595199)

Na Doctor Who proved that there are dinosaurs.

Re:Sounds like fun! (3, Funny)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595347)

Dinosaurs aren't real, they were just made up to discourage time travelers.

You ever heard of the redneck Olympics?

Not everyone gets discouraged so easily....

Re:Sounds like fun! (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595227)

Here's how crazy of an effect [wordpress.com] nuclear bombs have had on our atmosphere. Basically, artifacts from the latter half of the 20th century and much of the 21st century will not be able to be reliably carbon dated in the future. Even if you want to include a compensation factor, the concentrations for a given location at different times over the lifespan of an organism and the organism's uptake at different points in its life aren't readily quantified.

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595573)

Your link is a 404...

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

SpectreBlofeld (886224) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595655)

I blame the nuclear bombs.

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593985)

what the effects might be from a powerful solar flare, a nearby supernova, or a gamma-ray burst.

Might be a good idea to do it every July 4th, but please ramp up gradually over a couple years from "not much, zune rollout level pffft" to "full on mega solar flare" level. That way we can get our gear in line. I believe there was a nuclear program called "swords into plowshares" or something like that dedicated to using nukes to make a new larger panama canal and all that kind of stuff. This testing would seem a pretty good peaceful use of the stockpile.

Also WRT to the nuclear explosion being called "starfish" this has lead to endless jokes about Taco Bell, McDonalds, resulting in food poisoning, resulting in nuclear level pain in my starfish, etc. Could they possibly select a goofier "code word" for the next test, like maybe the codeword "uranus" test or the codeword "Goat See" test?

Re:Sounds like fun! (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594087)

You are thinking of "Operation Plowshare" [wikipedia.org] ... A not-wildly-successful-but-truly-a-classic-of-the-nuclear-optimism-period project. Essentially, team nuclear realized that mankind now had the power to dig very large holes very quickly and proceeded to see what sorts of civil engineering could be shoehorned into being based on very large holes.

The godless communists, (as is often the case with these cold-war-era things) had an even larger, also not terribly well conceived; but much less euphemistically named project: "Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy" [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

zlives (2009072) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594491)

"named project: "Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy" "
or
NENE!!

Re:Sounds like fun! (2)

fibonacci8 (260615) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594755)

Duck, duck, goose!

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595033)

The godless communists, (as is often the case with these cold-war-era things) had an even larger, also not terribly well conceived; but much less euphemistically named project: "Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy".

Is that like the broken window fallacy [wikipedia.org] , writ extremely large?

Re:Sounds like fun! (2)

Antipater (2053064) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595383)

It was more like, "Hey! We've got that whole 'Siberia' thing, right? Wouldn't it be great if we could irrigate it and make it do something useful?" "Well, sure, but all the major rivers skirt around it and head south. There's no way to redirect that much water-flow!" "Sure there is! WITH NUKES!!"

Meanwhile, the Americans had Op. Plowshare, which was basically fracking. But with nukes.

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

splatter (39844) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595457)

Thanks for the link, I did not know that.

The most scary part was intended uses. They figured it could be used for fracking natural gas & wanted to blast the p-canal wider, & a new e-w passage. Can you imagine what panama might have had to say about that?

And of course fracking caused radioactive gas that was worthless, & we still haven't learned that lesson.

Sigh... BTW nice name, Good to see other mush heads around friend.

Re:Sounds like fun! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595465)

Or "Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy for Make Benefit Glorious Soviet Union of Mother Russia" to give it its full title.

Re:Sounds like fun! (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594113)

Also WRT to the nuclear explosion being called "starfish" this has lead to endless jokes about Taco Bell, McDonalds, resulting in food poisoning, resulting in nuclear level pain in my starfish, etc.

I'm sorry, what?

Re:Sounds like fun! (4, Informative)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594469)

Someone is about to post a picture of the slang definition of 'starfish'.

Don't click the link.

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595023)

Um... kay...

Re:Sounds like fun! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595115)

I say What what? [youtube.com]

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

The Mighty Buzzard (878441) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594593)

Agreed. I won't believe it unless the Mythbusters can replicate it. Not a job for the digital high-speed camera though.

Re:Sounds like fun! (1)

kesuki (321456) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595815)

well i just found out it was done several hundred times! http://youtu.be/LLCF7vPanrY [youtu.be]

and gave birth to... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593743)

another device for science fiction. Can't even recall the number (high) of books and short fiction where this device has figured in somewhere.

Re:and gave birth to... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594041)

another device for science fiction.

Also survivalist fiction, typically with no bearing on the reality.

Some science fact... (3, Informative)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594649)

EMP cannons (non-nuclear variety) are now no longer fiction [eurekaaerospace.com] ...
Although they still have the fictional variety for our amusement [xkcd.com] ...

Re:and gave birth to... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594161)

I'd like to see a science fiction story with a probe landing on Venus and finding evidence of a nuclear weapons accident destroying what used to be a planet covered by forests.

Re:and gave birth to... (2, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594427)

I'd like to see a science fiction story with a probe landing on Venus and finding evidence of a nuclear weapons accident destroying what used to be a planet covered by forests.

More likely to find highways choked with derelict SUVs

Re:and gave birth to... (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595361)

Venus's problem isn't so much that it has a CO2-based atmosphere, as that it has a *90 atmosphere* CO2-based atmosphere. Even if you removed all of the CO2 and were left with a 3.5 atm nitrogen atmosphere it'd still have a major greenhouse effect (nitrogen isn't generally a greenhouse gas, but at higher densities than are found on Earth, due to the higher collision rate, it gains an induced dipole moment; this is seen on Titan)

As another example, Mars too has a primarily CO2-based atmosphere. But it's a 0.007 atm CO2 atmosphere. Hence, it's frigid instead of burning-hot like Venus.

"Are you sure this is safe?" (5, Funny)

saveferrousoxide (2566033) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593939)

"Sir...We're hundreds miles from anything...what could possibly go wrong?"

Re:"Are you sure this is safe?" (2)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593983)

Everything.

Re:"Are you sure this is safe?" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595425)

"Sir...We're hundreds miles from anything...what could possibly go wrong?"

Afterward...

"*sigh* Okay, fine, I'll admit, that wasn't enough. So now let's move hundreds of miles PLUS ONE away and try it again..."

Gamma Rays! (1)

Dareth (47614) | more than 2 years ago | (#40593975)

So that explains how the Rock [google.com] got super powers!

Re:Gamma Rays! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594197)

Do you have the original of that?

Re:Gamma Rays! (1)

Dareth (47614) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595901)

Do mean Hulk or Fantastic 4?

Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (5, Insightful)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594039)

Comparing a man-made nuclear bomb to a gamma-ray burst [wikipedia.org] seems kind of like comparing one pixel on your monitor to the Sun.

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594133)

Once Again Mother Nature can kick our Asses with out hesitation.

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594207)

Yeah - "a typical [gamma-ray] burst releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun will in its entire 10-billion-year lifetime". That would get all of the streetlights... on the planet.

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594223)

not sure why these pretentious trolls keep getting modded insightful.. nobody equated an a bomb to a supernova yield- wise. they were referring to the emp effect which are similar

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (2)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594247)

From what distance?

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594523)

I guess, the nuclear test would have to be much much closer to register as one pixel vs. the sun, if you want to compare it vs. a type 1a supernova. Maybe 100m from the nuclear blast is about similar to type 1a supernova at 150,000,000,000m, or about where the sun is, and then *maybe* you may compare the two on the scale of one pixel (the nuke) vs. sun in terms of brightness over about 5 seconds.

A nuclear device can only come close to brightness comparison if you are looking at scales of microseconds or similar. And that comparison only works because of the limitations of speed of light!

To keep it in perspective, a supernova can blow away Earth's like planet atmospheres over a distance of *light years*. It can irradiate and destroy ozone layers at a distance of hundreds and hundreds of light years, and some at a few thousand light years.

Some cosmic BOOMs are so large, that they will glow more brightly than the rest of the visible universe combined. And the longer you look, the larger BOOMs are seen :)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/7893771/Nasa-satellite-blinded-by-biggest-ever-star-explosion-seen-in-space.html [telegraph.co.uk]

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594281)

Pretty much. I am thinking that most of the geeks have left slashdot and it is now just a stone to grind political axes without any understanding. What happened to the good old days of people building mech playhouses for their kids in the backyard.
Now that was a whole lot of awesome

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594525)

Actually, comparing one pixel on my screen to a class-G star a couple lightyears away seems entirely reasonable.

Re:Not really supernovae and gamma-ray bursts (1)

bitt3n (941736) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595237)

Comparing a man-made nuclear bomb to a gamma-ray burst [wikipedia.org] seems kind of like comparing one pixel on your monitor to the Sun.

mostly because I'd notice if a pixel on my monitor burnt out.

oh yeah? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594061)

Pics or it didn't happen

Re:oh yeah? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595407)

Okie dokie. [google.com]

Actually? (5, Insightful)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594091)

it was supposed to help US scientists and the military understand how the Soviets might try to stop incoming nuclear missiles. What it actually did was

Thanks for the loaded language; actually, it probably did both. It's nice that now when we know about all the negative effects so we can peer down our nose at the evil scientist puppets of the military but they really didn't know back then. That's why it's called an "experiment".

Actually?-Black Holes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594645)

That's why it's called an "experiment".

LHC: Hey what happens if we turn this on? *SHHLUURP!!*

Re:Actually? (3, Funny)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594863)

Ha, I'd like to hear commentary on the nobility of scientific experiments if/when China does this. I'm sure we would have no problem with them bursting nukes over our heads and knocking out our satellites (oops!)

Re:Actually? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595155)

but it's a known scientific fact now, which it was not back then.

Re:Actually? (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595233)

Ha, I'd like to hear commentary on the nobility of scientific experiments if/when China does this. I'm sure we would have no problem with them bursting nukes over our heads and knocking out our satellites (oops!)

The previous experiment found out about the harmful side effects 50+ years prior so you think the only reason anyone would complain about worldwide radiation today is because of petty nationalism?

Re:Actually? (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595597)

Actually a lot of the data was lost because it went off the charts or the equipment was destroyed.

The dumb thing was they assumed the Soviets would try it without actually witnessing them testing their own version. When you look at the history of the nuclear stand-off the US looks pretty crazy next to the USSR. I can understand why the US is now so paranoid about countries like Iran getting nuclear weapons - it's because they assume Iran will be as nuts as they were.

Re:Actually? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595833)

No, it's because the US looks sane compared to Iran.

Re:Actually? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595777)

...and unintended consequences.

This was used in "Voyage to the bottom... (2)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594179)

... of the Sea" (With the cool sub that had a giant viewport in the front and could launch a flying saucer like aircraft).

I seem to remember a nuclear explosion high in the atmosphere causing the ionosphere(?) to ignite(?) and BAD THINGS happening. They are sent to launch a counter missile(?) which will extinguish the "flame". (Sorry, it's late here in Vietnam and I'm too lazy to research.

Unfortunately, this is probably a good argument against project Orion. Hundreds (thousands?) of tiny nukes going off in LEO would probably also do bad things.

Was this a factor leading up to the above ground test ban treaty? I mean it wouldn't be good to accidentally wipe out the world's electronics industry. (Now doing it on purpose, that's something else entirely). The test ban treaty probably stopped the development of "shaped" nuclear charges (blasting a city from an explosion in orbit) and other exotic weapons like fission bomb pumped x-ray lasers. Oh well, let's hope the Aliens are friendly!

Re:This was used in "Voyage to the bottom... (5, Informative)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594487)

Was this a factor leading up to the above ground test ban treaty? I mean it wouldn't be good to accidentally wipe out the world's electronics industry. (Now doing it on purpose, that's something else entirely). The test ban treaty probably stopped the development of "shaped" nuclear charges (blasting a city from an explosion in orbit) and other exotic weapons like fission bomb pumped x-ray lasers. Oh well, let's hope the Aliens are friendly!

Note: I'm going completely off memory here, quite likely to get some details wrong.

This test (and Soviet counterparts) drove a high-altitude test ban treaty (that might actually be the name). They both rather quickly saw that continuing this would bring only ruin to them both.

That probably was a major factor in the later above-ground and then comprehensive test bans, proving that the two countries could write and abide by a treaty limiting nuclear weapons in any way. But those were years later.

Re:This was used in "Voyage to the bottom... (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594499)

You're remembering a bad old scifi movie. 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' or something.

They got the idea from a bunch of morons demanding the 'precautionary principle' before it had a name.

They also thought atom bombs would blow a hole in the bottom of the ocean and all the water would drain out.

Re:This was used in "Voyage to the bottom... (1)

slew (2918) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594543)

Was this a factor leading up to the above ground test ban treaty?

Starfish Prime (as I recally the only successful detonation of operation Fishbowl) was in July 1962 so it was probably a factor. More generally the whole expiration of the moritorium on nuclear testing in 1961 (resulting in the US and USSR getting in to a propaganda "pissing contest" with radiation polluting the atmosphere). The cuban missle crisis which occured later in October 1962, however, was probably the primary factor leading up to the Limited test ban treaty which was signed in 1963.

The test ban treaty probably stopped the development of "shaped" nuclear charges (blasting a city from an explosion in orbit) and other exotic weapons like fission bomb pumped x-ray lasers.

Probably not, for instance research in to nuclear pumped xray laser for the "star-wars" strategic defense initiative continued well into the 1980's...

Oh well, let's hope the Aliens are friendly!

It's quite likely if they if/when the "Aliens" get here they will be in such a fragile craft (because nearly all of the resources of the craft will have been dedicated to interstellar space propulsion) that we won't need any fancy tech like that. However, if by chance they have the tech to super-efficienctly traverse interstellar space they are probably here for our resources (and a few x-ray lasers from us aren't gonna pose too much a threat to them)....

Re:This was used in "Voyage to the bottom... (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595385)

Unfortunately, this is probably a good argument against project Orion. Hundreds (thousands?) of tiny nukes going off in LEO would probably also do bad things.

It means Orion has to be built in space and moved away from the planet on some other kind of propulsion before you can start launching nukes, not that Orion is a bad idea...

Mythbusters? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594305)

Sounds like a Mythbusters segment gone wrong.

Someone's got a case of the "s'posed tas" (5, Interesting)

AaronGilliland (2680441) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594343)

Bad Astronomer makes it sound like they didn't achieve their objective. They learned a hell of a lot. Modern warheads are heavily shielded against EMP, so it's not a great point defense. What's more, setting off EMP over your own territory is a bit like breaking your car so you won't get into a car accident.

A somewhat similar idea (but not too similar) is the idea of X-ray pindown. To facilitate an attack, the aggressor would detonate a neutron bomb high over the target country, bathing it in x-rays so harsh that the target country's ICBM's would be damaged if they tried to launch in retaliation.

Another interesting aside (at least I think it is): the early anti-ballistic missile programs, Sentinel and Safeguard, were designed to destroy incoming nuclear warheads by... blowing them up with other nuclear warheads. This had the positive effect of taking out one or two incoming warheads, and the very negative effect of blinding the system's radar to any other incoming warheads.

Mind your emissions, gentlemen.

Re:Someone's got a case of the "s'posed tas" (5, Informative)

TCPhotography (1245814) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594517)

The phased arrays that backed the deployed ABM system would not have been blinded by the interceptor warhead initiations. This was the primary advantage of moving to a phase array system for intercept control duty. There is also the fact that the Spartan missiles would have been doing the intercepts well over Canada, and it is only the SPRINT missiles that would have been doing terminal interceptions. Even with Sprint, a 10-30kt event over your territory is a lot better than a much larger (say 1mt) event that's a ground-burst.

Presently both the US and the Russians use Hit-to-Kill ABM systems because both nations have too much stuff in orbit that is too expensive to replace that we couldn't afford to pump energy into the van Allen belts on the scale that a nuclear-dependent ABM system would provide.

Are you ready for an EMP ?? (4, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594371)

One small nuclear device detonated over the US at about 10,000 feet could make a huge mess of things. Not from the blast damage, not from radiation, but from EMP. Draw some 1,800 mile wide circles on a map and see how large an area can be affected.

The initial effect of an EM pulse would destroy just about everything attached to the power grid. Huge voltage spikes and induced currents would literally overload and destroy both the grid and things attached. Power delivery would most certainly be disrupted because the infrastructure used to deliver power would be seriously damaged. The power lines would exist, but the transformers, relays and controls would have serious problems. Further, power generating plants would likely be seriously damaged, so there would be no power to distribute. Radio communications would be almost totally disrupted for days, and partially disrupted for weeks. Land line phones would surely be seriously damaged and cell phones would not be useable.

Don't think that being disconnected from the grid would not mean you are safe. Anything with even a few feet of wire hanging onto it would be subject to serious damage. Most consumer electronics, including cars, cell phones, radios and TVs would likely be damaged beyond repair. Your solar powered home will be as dark as everybody else and those of you with local generators are unlikely to be in much better shape. You will literally find yourself back in horse and buggy days, only with very few horses to be had. Few cars would be running, mostly old ones with old ignition systems and mechanical fuel pumps.

The real question is how long would it take to repair the grid and get things going? If the east coast storms of last week are any example, one can only conclude that it will be a LONG time. How many people will starve during that time?

Science fiction aside, this EMP thing is real and more dangerous than using nuclear devices to blow stuff up. Even a small device could cause serious long lasting damage for a HUGE part of the US.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594477)

Hey dipshit
You're off by an order of magnitude. That's an airburst altitude to destroy cities, not a high altitude EMP burst. Learn a little more physics instead of just reading dystopian sci-fi.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594533)

Of course, doing so would also piss off pretty much the entire planet, because it would likely knock out hundreds of satellites and disrupt world-wide communications for weeks or months afterwards, and space travel for (potentially) years. So anyone who wants to pull something like that off has to be willing to face the military wrath of more or less the entire planet afterwards.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594919)

Of course, doing so would also piss off pretty much the entire planet, because it would likely knock out hundreds of satellites and disrupt world-wide communications for weeks or months afterwards, and space travel for (potentially) years. So anyone who wants to pull something like that off has to be willing to face the military wrath of more or less the entire planet afterwards.

well, usually in fiction such device is exploded by someone plotting to incite war for various reasons.
anyhow, doubt that it would lead to total war if it was just some offshoot operation or by a non major state.

however, destroying an awful lot of electronics would sure fix the economy for couple of years right up.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

kamapuaa (555446) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594673)

It wouldn't be like that. It would be in Star Trek, where there is a panel overload. Basically, electricity flies out of the electronics and everybody flies around the bridge.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (2, Informative)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594857)

Let's see, the test was a 1.4 megaton device at an altitude of 400km. While it had some impressive effects 900km away, it didn't destroy all civilization as we know it in the Pacific rim. Yet you claim that a much smaller device at 10,000 feet (3km?) would wipe out an entire continent. Methinks you are full of shit.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40594913)

no but my mom listen's to Rush limbaugh and she say's that this i's real, there wa's a book written by newt Gingri'ch that was all about this, it would de'stroy the U'S with jus't a pretty small bomb, also i think i heard about thi's on Alex Jone's. alex jone is an expert on this so dont quote any science numbers please. of course you won't learn about thi's in any Government school's.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (5, Informative)

japhmi (225606) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595167)

As 'luck' would have it, currently it is believed that an EMP pulse over North America would be worse than in Hawaii due to the difference in the geomagnetic field in the two locations. For example, it is believed that a blast over the Dakotas would mostly cause problems south of the blast vs a circle all the way around.

Now, I think from my reading that his numbers are wrong (it would need to be higher), but the total kt isn't as important (and a smaller bomb could be constructed to emphasize EMP over blast).

Check out the US Army's document "Nuclear Environment Survivability." (Report ADA278230)

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595697)

Mod this up. This guy knows what he is talking about.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595479)

You both are wrong. You have no idea how an EMP works. Read up some on the topic before running your mouth. I could explain it, but I'd rather not. And frankly, if you are involved with computers, you need to know this stuff, because, just like static electricty killing your ram, atmospheric electric interference can destroy electronics.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (5, Interesting)

trims (10010) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595025)

While the effects you describe are definitely real and a huge issue, significant-footprint EMP really requires a thermonuclear device, not a "small" fission one.

For maximum EMP damage, 10,000 feet is far too low an altitude. You want a minimum of 50km altitude. So, to do a EMP, you must have orbital launch capability (i.e. Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile or better capability). Loading a nuke onboard a plane and detonating it at 40,000 feet won't work for producing an EMP of any effect.

Maximum area of the EMP is limited to "line of sight" to the detonation point. So, detonating higher in the atmosphere gives a larger potential EMP radius. However, the higher the altitude, the lower the total amount of radiated energy from the blast converted into EMP. This is primarily due to the atmosphere absorbing a significant amount of the energy before it reaches ground level. And, of course, EMP is not some binary works-or-not; it's a power level, and each device has a different level of interference that it can withstand before frying. So, you're faced with a tradeoff: the higher you detonate the warhead, the larger the potential area of the EMP, but the weaker the EMP is throughout the entire area.

Realistically speaking, warheads under 100kt don't produce usable EMP. At the minimum effective EMP altitude of about 30km, 100kt produces a useful EMP (one which will fry unshielded simple commercial electronics) directly underneath the weapon detonation, perhaps in a hectare or so. A 200kt weapon (the maximum effective yield of a non-boosted, pure fission weapon) could produce a EMP with maybe a few km or so radius.

Effective EMP areas require 300-400kt or more, which requires, at minimum, a boosted fission/fusion weapon, which is much more difficult to build than a pure fission weapon. With these, you might be able to get an EMP radius of 50-100km or so. To get the really big EMP, you need a thermonuclear weapon, ideally in the low MT range (2-5MT). These are the weapons that were used in the USA and USSR's Fractional Orbital Bombardment systems you read about in fiction books. They can produce the 1000km+ radius effects.

Given all the above, to do any real EMP, you need BOTH orbital launch capability, AND boosted fission nuclear weapon ability. At this point, a total of 6 countries (USA, Russia, UK, France, China, India) have this ability, with two possibly working on it (Pakistan, North Korea), and nobody else getting there anytime soon (even Israel is unlikely to have the requisite missile capability). In the big scheme of things, not something that we really have to worry about more than general nuclear weapon use, as EMP use is far beyond the capabilities of any non-state actor, and fairly obvious if any state-level attempt is being made to produce one.

-Erik

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595335)

You fail at spoiling our delicious chills of terror. We eagerly await the massive solar storm...

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (2)

bobbied (2522392) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595395)

I believe you are correct that a higher burst would be better, but the size and type of the bomb is not as important as you seem to indicate.

But my point here is that considering how bound we are to our technology and how unprepared we are for a wide spread disruption of even basic electrical power distribution, an EMP would be a serious problem.

Puts a whole new face on the missile defense systems....

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595657)

You are wrong. It is not limited to the line of sight of the explosion. An EMP is not primarily a nuclear event -- it is a complicated, secondary, etc., reaction.

It is possible to use smaller weapons to create huge EMPS. So, yes, people ARE vulnerable to a rogue state nuking the electronics to death. Of course, while your explanation is wrong, the physics of scaling is correct. It might take two small bombs to knock out all of the USA -- not one.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595065)

Thanks, Newt [google.com] . Are you still running for president?

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

Sigg3.net (886486) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595315)

Well, I for one, welcome our godsend Amish overlords!

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

bobbied (2522392) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595829)

Weird Al here we come..... Amish Paradise....

If you come to visit, you'll be bored to tears

We haven't even payed the phone bill in 300 years

But we ain't really quaint, so please don't point and stare

We're just technologically impaired

There's no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury

Like Robonson Crusoe, it's as primitive as can be

We've been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise

We're just plain and simple guys, living in an Amish paradise

There's no time for sin and vice, living in an Amish paradise

We don't fight, we all play nice, living in an Amish paradise

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595423)

Don't think that being disconnected from the grid would not mean you are safe. Anything with even a few feet of wire hanging onto it would be subject to serious damage. Most consumer electronics, including cars, cell phones, radios and TVs would likely be damaged beyond repair. Your solar powered home will be as dark as everybody else and those of you with local generators are unlikely to be in much better shape. You will literally find yourself back in horse and buggy days, only with very few horses to be had. Few cars would be running, mostly old ones with old ignition systems and mechanical fuel pumps

As Mr Nimzicki once said "Uh Mr. President. Thats not entirely accurate"

Please read the EMP commission report. http://www.empcommission.org/ [empcommission.org]

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

tokul (682258) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595719)

Most consumer electronics, including cars

AK-47s and some cars have something in common. They have zero electronic parts that might control primary tool function.

Re:Are you ready for an EMP ?? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595903)

Name one car built in the last 30 years that has no electronic parts needed to run.

Might not have happened (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594423)

Starfish Prime occurred during a sudden burst of testing between the lapse of an unofficial US-Soviet testing moratorium and the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1961-63). If the geopolitical winds had been a little different (i.e., if Khrushchev and Kennedy had respected each other and the French hadn't started testing in the Sahara), there might not have been any exo-atmospheric tests before the LTBT, and we wouldn't know about EMT.

Makes you wonder if there are any other major effects we and the Soviets missed.

Re:Might not have happened (3, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594869)

Makes you wonder if there are any other major effects we and the Soviets missed.

Horribly, fiery, radioactive death, for one.

Re:Might not have happened (2)

linear a (584575) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595047)

Horribly, fiery, radioactive death, for one.

Hardly. That's the primary and intended effect.

Re:Might not have happened (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40595905)

The Japanese have some 1st hand experience of what that's like.

It didn't hurt the copper market... (4, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594509)

The EMP "revelation" sold an awful lot of copper...anybody who was around "sensitive" technology in the military in the following couple of decades probably remembers grounding anything that didn't move...or, rather, wasn't moving at the time - and then grounding the grounds.

what's that... thing? (1)

jjeffries (17675) | more than 2 years ago | (#40594881)

What goes shooting through the frame @ ~39 seconds into the video?

Re:what's that... thing? (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595145)

That's the Vogon Destructor ship that released the bomb. They think it's good for the crew's health to fly through the cloud after detonating one of these things.

EMP Not The Only Way To Ruin Your Day (2)

anorlunda (311253) | more than 2 years ago | (#40595513)

In the 1960s, Defense Secretary Mcnamara said that as few as three nuclear bombs exploded high above the USA could start every structure in North America on fire simultaneously. He was speaking to the point of how hard it would be to make effective defense. You might stop 3000 but if only 3 get through your day may still be ruined.

 

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