Declassified footage of the biggest nuclear explosion ever

Here’s a rare video, previously classified but recently released, of the explosion of the “Tsar Bomba“, which the Soviet Union detonated on October 30, 1961. Wikipedia calls it “the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created and tested”, and it “remains the most powerful human-made explosive ever detonated.”

How powerful was this H-bomb? About 50 megatons of TNT; here’s a comparison to other Big Bombs:

The Tsar Bomba was the single most physically powerful device ever deployed on Earth. For comparison, the largest weapon ever produced by the U.S., the now-decommissioned B41, had a predicted maximum yield of 25 megatons of TNT (100 PJ). The largest nuclear device ever tested by the U.S. (Castle Bravo) yielded 15 megatons of TNT (63 PJ) because of an unexpectedly high involvement of lithium-7 in the fusion reaction; the preliminary prediction for the yield was from 4 to 6 megatons of TNT (17 to 25 PJ). The largest weapons deployed by the Soviet Union were also around 25 megatons of TNT (100 PJ) (e.g., the SS-18 Mod. 3 warhead).

The weight and size of the Tsar Bomba limited the range and speed of the specially modified bomber carrying it. Delivery by an intercontinental ballistic missile would have required a much stronger missile (the Proton started its development as that delivery system). It has been estimated that detonating the original 100 Mt design would have released fallout amounting to about 26% of all fallout emitted since the invention of nuclear weapons. It was decided that a full 100 Mt detonation would create a nuclear fallout that was unacceptable in terms of pollution from a single test, as well as a near certainty that the release plane and crew would be destroyed before it could escape the blast radius.

According to the New York Times article about the new footage, the Tsar Bomba was fully 700 times as powerful as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima!

As you see from the video below, the bomb was slowly parachuted down before it was detonated. The bomb was set off at a height of 4,000 meters over the Novaya Zemlya archipelago above the Arctic Circle.

Here’s the condensed version of the video, about 2.5 minutes long.

Here’s the full version of the Soviet video, 40 minutes long:

32 Comments

  1. Alex K.
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Imagine if any of these bombs were in the hands of someone unstable.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Like the orange menace who can’t figure out why the US doesn’t use its nuclear arsenal & enjoys participating in pissing contests.

      • mhoule2013
        Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        sub

      • Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Luckily he is also too impatient to listen to anyone long enough to learn how to activate it, too stupid to be able to punch in any code longer than one digit, and too ignorant to know what it can really do.

        This eventuality was not predicted by anyone who grew up during the Cold War.

        He did, of course, want to nuke a hurricane. This was also not predicted by anyone who etc etc.

        The fact that this person’s popularity rating was 50% a few months ago means half the US population hasn’t noticed anything odd about this fellow.

        • phoffman56
          Posted October 23, 2020 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

          It is still the case that, among white male registered voters, Mass Murderer donald is preferred to Briden by about 8%, near the margin Biden is preferred by all voters.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      A bomb like that would need great hands to, uh, handle. Someone with tiny hands and an inferiority complex over them couldn’t handle such responsibility. Well, not responsibly.
      Oh dear.

      (Just been binge-listening to the presentation of Gulliver’s Travels from BBC Wales’ drama team. And I’m using a Yahoo email address. Houyhnhnms FTW!)

  2. ploubere
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Insanity.

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Jesus.

  4. busterggi
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    The 2nd deadliest weapon Russia ever produced.

    • jezgrove
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      Lol!

  5. Jimbo
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, that video should keep the nightmare tank topped off for another decade!

    • W.T. Effingham
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Another decade in addition to the decades of nightmarish damage controls and loss prevention work tRump has foisted upon us.

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Wish I knew Russian so I could understand some of the narration. They were spray painting parts of the airplane (the propellers). Don’t know what that had to do with anything. Back then the size of the bomb was just huge. They have certainly reduced the size a great deal. The nuclear bombs carried by aircraft today are much smaller of course.

    I have only seen up close, one type of nuclear bomb and that is the one carried on the airplane I worked on in the service. The F-100 would carry one bomb on the center section under the plane. Please note, although the bomb was on the aircraft, a jet fighter never left the ground with a nuclear weapon attached.

    • Pawel
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      The plane is painted white to absorb less heat from the flash of light. I think many bombers of this era were either white or silver for this reason. But if the flash is shining on the the front of the propellers then you are definitely have bigger problems.

      I think this bomb was more or less an experiment, but bombs of this era were more powerful than today, to compensate for the missiles being so inaccurate. Accuracy is still a live issue, e.g. see this story about fuse upgrades over the last decade:

      https://thebulletin.org/2017/03/how-us-nuclear-force-modernization-is-undermining-strategic-stability-the-burst-height-compensating-super-fuze/

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        White paint – could be it. I doubt they had reduced the size of nuks to put on missiles. I guess we had them on Jupiter missiles in the early 60s. Dropping that big thing on a shute was probably to delay the explosion until the aircraft could get further away?

        • Pawel
          Posted October 24, 2020 at 4:39 am | Permalink

          Yes to the parachute.

          Obviously not the whole story, but what I had in mind about sizes was:

          Minuteman-I, 1.6 km accuracy, W56, 1.2 megaton, 1962-1990

          Minuteman-III, 240m accuracy, W62, 170 kilotons, 1970-, and W87, 300 kilotons, 2005-.

          All from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGM-30_Minuteman

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 25, 2020 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        As the saying goes, “Close only counts in horse shoes & nuclear war”.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    How I learned to stop worrying and love The Bomb:

  8. Posted October 23, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    This story reminded me of the Oregon mayor who decided to blow up the carcase of a beached whale and made already stupid idea much worse by using far too much dynamite, while cheered on by equally overzealous townspeople who all showed up to watch… with entirely predictable results.

    See the article “It was like a blubber storm” — https://www.opb.org/artsandlife/series/history/florence-oregon-whale-explosion-history/

    (And please vote.)

    • Posted October 23, 2020 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      It wasn’t the mayor of Florence; it was an engineer from the State Highway Division. The engineer used dynamite because that’s how obstacles (usually fallen rocks) were removed from land under its jurisdiction (usually highways, but an Oregon governor had put the beach in its charge at some point). The whale carcass was successfully removed from the beach; the trouble was that the fragments went up instead of out to sea. The explosion was not announced in advance, so there were only a handful of observers, mostly reporters. But don’t let facts spoil a perfectly good story…

      • Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Okay, okay, it was a success, it did the job required, and no one could have foreseen that the explosion would cover people half a mile away in smouldering whale blubber. Nothing to see here, keep moving, keep moving.

        • Posted October 23, 2020 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          Well, it was a triumph of bureaucracy anyway. Use the time-honored and approved method of removing boulders from highways to remove a whale from a beach, because, you know, a whale is exactly like a boulder, and a beach is indistinguishable from a highway. What could go wrong?

          Supposedly the Oregon government had declared the beaches public highways to keep them out of the hands of developers; a downside was that highway engineers are not necessarily the best people to deal with wildlife problems on the beach. But hindsight is golden, as the old saying has it.

          • Posted October 24, 2020 at 5:07 am | Permalink

            Thank you for that extra information! I’d read a few articles about it and messed up the details. I read one article which reported that someone from the military warned them they were using way too much explosives, but they ignored him.

  9. eric
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Is it wrong that the most upsetting thing about that video to me is that it shows Russia had adopted the metric system 60 years ago, and US culture still hasn’t mastered it?

    …anyway. I have the coffee table book “100 Suns” which, if you’re into the history of nuclear tests, is quite good for a coffee book table.

  10. Posted October 23, 2020 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The understatement by the narrator
    describing the landscape at ground zero before and after the explosion from 4000 metres
    ” has changed a lot”. 🤪😁
    Yebat’ menya!
    The accompanying incidental music track is bizarre like a warped “Twilight Zone” ☠

  11. Jimbo
    Posted October 23, 2020 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I cannot imagine Trump as a lame duck president given his egomaniacal obsession with winning (or compulsively lying to make it appear so) and a complete inability to accept losing gracefully. I sure hope they can keep the nuclear codes away from him because I’m convinced he’ll start to lose his mind as Republicans abandon him and he descends toward irrelevancy. He’s vindictive and I fear he’ll start sabotaging things knowing tax evasion or other charges for criminal past behavior will catch up to him. $10 he steals valuables from the White House.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      $10 he steals valuables from the White House.

      Does America have the habit of stripping the lightbulbs and door knobs from the house before handing over the keys to the new owners?
      Somebody make sure that Biden has a box of lightbulbs and doorknobs. I still don’t think that the election will be permitted to go ahead if it were going to return an incorrect (i.e. non-Trump) result, but just in case, someone send him some lightbulbs.

    • Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

      I doubt Republicans will abandon him.

      They will weigh up the odds of which is worse — stick with him and back the coup his cohorts are organising, or abandon him and hope the coup will fail (knowing that if the coup works, their goose is cooked).

  12. Posted October 23, 2020 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Awful. 🙁

  13. Posted October 23, 2020 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Very intetresting, the announcr mentioned fluorescence. In other words the light (probably especially the UV light) caused the stuff on the ground to emit its own light, probably in many different colors depending on the material. I wonder ewhat that would have looked like. This is the first time I have heard it mentioned in connection with atom bombs, but it makes sense that there would be a strong and colorful fluorescence.

  14. Posted October 24, 2020 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Awesome. This was released a few weeks ago.

    For those interested there’s also The atomic testing channel on youtube which has dozens of similar movies, mainly ours but also a few Chinese. Most from the 50s and 60s which have a cinematic “flavor” all of their own. It was a very different time, evidently.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFbzthhT2eRcBpEPc5FPGtQ

    I’ve watched hours of them, I find them fascinating.
    I got time. 🙂

    D.A., NYC
    ps since you asked, Castle Bravo is my favorite (H. Bonb, Ebawetok Atoll)

    D.

  15. john reynolds
    Posted October 24, 2020 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Re: the leucistic tiger. I watched a documentary last night about the aftermath of Joe Exotic’s cat breeding. Where zoos use science and databases for breeding big cats Joe just flew by the seat of his pants. Incredible amounts of inbreeding and really messed up cats. He also began breeding liger hybrids because they weren’t recognized as a species and aren’t regulated like recognized species are. Apparently big cats make money for their owners for the first hundred days of their lives and then they become a money drain to the owner. It is an evil business.


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