January 10, 2013

Giant Squid Squidding About on Film

Deep sea cameras have caught the first pictures of a giant squid in it's natural habitat doing normal squid things.

Here is a short video.

Oops...she's neither giant nor in her natural habitat nor doing normal squid things. Lets try again...

..and a couple of pictures...

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 04:25 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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January 07, 2013


The Tsar Bomb, a weapon tested by the U.S.S.R. in 1961 was the penultimate in things designed and built to go "BOOM!"

It's fairly well, known and its effects are described here and here.

It had a yield of at least 50 megatons, though this may be a low end estimate as other figures as high as 57 and even 62 MT have been postulated. Despite being detonated at an altitude of 4 kilometers, the weapon's detonation registered 5.25 on the Richter scale and the seismic wave was felt by instruments all over the world. It utterly demolished an evacuated village 34 miles away. It broke windows in Finland and Norway and as far away as 560 miles. It would have caused 3rd degree burns 62 miles away and was about a quarter the explosive force of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption. The mushroom cloud reached 40 miles up... just 10 miles shy of the U.S. definition of outer space.It was also the cleanest nuclear device ever used as it was a fusion weapon lit off by a comparatively small fission 'pilot light'.

The effect on the ground is described by one of the scientists who examined ground zero:

The ground surface of the island has been levelled, swept and licked so that it looks like a skating rink. The same goes for rocks. The snow has melted and their sides and edges are shiny. There is not a trace of unevenness in the ground... Everything in this area has been swept clean, scoured, melted and blown away.

This flat expanse of trinitite extended 25 kilometers from ground zero.

But as they say that was half the story, and half the yield. This test was of a half yield device. The ultimate in things designed and built to go BOOM was intended to have a third stage of Uranium. In the test device, this uranium jacket was replaced with lead, but was otherwise identical. The uranium jacket would have at least doubled the yield of the weapon. The reason for omitting it from the test was that the uranium would have also precipitated the formation of all sorts of radioactive nasties and would have made it an extraordinarily dirty weapon with tremendous amounts of radioactive fallout even from an air burst. The Soviets decided, understandably, that they did not want the full up weapon detonated in their hemisphere.

The FAS article strongly suggests that this device was never intended to be weaponized and the uranium jacket was designed for kicks. I've heard college professors suggest that this weapon was actually a noble exercise in showing the folly of nukes and was therefore actually a noble gesture of peace. Among the reasons for this is the fact that the bomber that carried it had to be massively modified and lost its internal fuel. Of course they built it with provision for a uranium jacket...

Well, I was not surprised that it was indeed intended to be a weapon, but I was surprised to discover that the weapon was not intended for delivery by plane or rocket, but by torpedo. Andre Sakharov mentioned this in passing and there is now some evidence that this superpowerful hell weapon was intended to take out US ports.

  Sakharov's recollection may be off or he didn't originate the idea because the first Soviet nuclear submarines (Project 627) were initially designed around a Tsar Bomb Scale Torpedo...the T-15 and two normal sized torpedo tubes. (link in Russian)

The installation of the titanic torpedo of terror was pushed back while some technical issues were worked out. (I suspect the fact that a 50 NM range was not sufficient to keep from destroying the sub may have been one, though firing the weapon into a port on a timer and leaving would seem to be a viable tactic.)

Eventually most if not all of the Project 627 boats were completed with 8 conventionally sized torpedoes firing a mix of nuclear and conventional torpedoes. They were given the NATO code name November.
But...if the original design had been built and (God forbid) used...how would a full-up 100MT weapon have affected, say...New York?

Let's see!

Using the Nukemap online nightmare facilitator we get this.

The nightmare facilitator helpfully color-codes the blast. Going outward from the hypocenter: the yellow  in the center is a deep crater of fuzed glass. This is the extent of the fireball itself and EVERYTHING here is utterly gone.  The green area has an instant death rate of 50-100 percent due to radiation. This is included in the simulator because it's important for smaller bombs but its really redundant here because the much larger red area overlaps it and experiences instant overpressures of 20PSI and above. Red is going to see the utter destruction of even many steel reinforced concrete buildings. The grey area, which will have overpressure down to 4,6 PSI will  see most structures destroyed except for the very strongest steel and concrete structures, which will be damaged. The death rate in the red and grey zones is going to be close to 100% even if NO radiation was present. Overlapping all of these zones,  and extending well beyond them the is orange area . Outside the grey area it will still experience some blast damage but the orange zone mainly experiences thermal effects. Any exposed skin gets 3rd degree burns and most everything flammable or combustible burst into flames. This will likely result in a firestorm stretching from Trenton NJ to Brentwood, to Fairfield CT and north almost to West Point. Note that this is a very simplistic map and takes into account dissipation of the blast and the curvature of the earth, but it does not take into account terrain or atmospheric conditions. For instance the facing slopes of hills might get higher level effects than their distance would indicate and info from the actual Tsar Bomba test indicates that scattered fires might be started in the Adirondacks

This blast does not have the vast range of the 1961 test because it is assumed to be a ground burst. Of course a ground burst is a VERY dirty explosion. The harbor is unusable for decades and very likely isn't a harbor any more.

Lets pull back a bit...

The major US harbors would have been destroyed and since the seismic effects would have been greater than 8.0,  there would have been earthquake-like damage up and down the eastern seaboard, which transmits seismic waves very efficiently. Remember each 100 MT bomb is roughly half a Krakatoa. Worse, radioactive tsunamis might have done additional damage. The bomb itself, wouldn't cause a real tsunami, but the vertical shaking the concussion would have caused could have precipitated avalanches in the undersea canyons outside many east coast ports. This could conceivably trigger tsunamis.

Note that those 'splody circles are the actual blast fields...to scale.

DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore as torpedo targets are a bit far fetched. One would have to assume torpedoes powered by RTGs or something so the Sub doesn't have to enter the Chesapeake or Delaware Bays. Chicago and Sacramento are rather unlikely targets for a torpedo.

However, the above simulation was done with a slightly different scenario in mind.

The weapon, as big as it was, was not as big as one might think. If you removed the fins, it could fit in an ISO shipping container. It was also not all that advanced in reality. The Soviet engineers designed it very quickly and it was reportedly a straightforward and very conservative scale-up from the U.S.S.R.s early hydrogen weapons. The Soviet engineers did not seem to find it terribly challenging. This means that once anyone gets the ability to produce hydrogen bombs, something like this weapon is a straightforward development, probably only a decade or so down the road.  (the Russians did it rather quicker in what by today's standards are primitive conditions, but they are very good at engineering)

Barring a catastrophic screw-up resulting in a nuclear exchange, the current nuclear threat is, at the very most, something along the scale of "Little Boy" (a firecracker by comparison). However, there is no more potent terror weapon than the 'King of Bombs' and the ability to do damage on that scale is demonstrably attainable. That such large weapons are wasteful and poisonous enough to cause massive contamination is of little deterrent to those who covet nukes for terror purposes. Fortunately, no one likely to try and sneak one of these things into the country will be able to develop or obtain them...for at least 10 or 12 years. 

UPDATE: Edited for clarity.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 11:25 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
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January 06, 2013


One of the Brickmuppets Crack Team of Science Babes has asked that we respond to mysterious commenter "JT" who seems to need information about Three Mile Island

Three Mile Island is a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania that suffered a partial meltdown in one of its reactors in 1979 due to a confluence of failures, both human and mechanical.. Though widely touted as an unmitigated catastrophe, the areas radiation detectors detected very low levels of radiation released, about 1/1000th that needed to cause immediate heath effects. A subsequent Columbia university study was done in 1991 to measure long term effects. It measured the cancer frequency of the local population to the US as a whole over the 10 years since the accident and found a very small increase in some cancers (and a lower rate than the norm for Leukemia). Because the measured increases were so low (between 0.4 and 1.17%) and the distribution did not correlate to the actual contaminated area (as described by wind patterns and dosimeter reports) the Columbia study actually suggested that stress was as a possible cause of the increase...and with all the hype the people of the area had certainly been subjected to stress. A more recent study points out that the area along the Susquehanna river near Three Mile Island happens to have one of the highest radon levels in the USA. This might invalidate all attempts to tie cancers to the reactor accident. Not mentioned in either study is the likelihood that residents around Three Mile Island were screened for cancers at a higher rate than the average US population which likely further skewed the number of cancer discoveries and thus the overall numbers.

Thus it is pretty darned clear that, while initial concern regards the incident was good and proper the subsequent hype and hysteria was both irresponsible and grossly misleading. Furthermore, the effects of the breathless and sensational coverage included the virtual death of the nuclear plant construction in the USA, which was a far greater catastrophe for the nation than the accident itself.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 06:40 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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