Image via Eevanshy
If ever there was a picture of beauty belying a deeper cruelty, if ever there was an image of our power to cause untold harm, if ever there was a sign of man’s capacity to tap Mother Nature’s energy only to ravage her – the giant, rising mass of the mushroom cloud is it. Since their inception in the 1940s under the aegis of the Manhattan Project, through the better-than-you Cold War standoff when their threat loomed like the Sword of Damocles, nuclear explosions have become symbols of the modern world.
Here we present some of the biggest ever nuclear explosions to tear across the face of our fair planet captured on camera. Measured in megatons – millions of tons of TNT – even the smallest of these most massive of blasts yielded hundreds of times the combined power of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Image: US Government
Operation Ivy – Mike
Detonated on November 1, 1952 at Enewetak, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, the 82-tonne block of a device codenamed Mike yielded an estimated 10.4 megatons of explosive power – almost 500 times that of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Ivy Mike is generally considered the world’s first triumphant test of an H bomb. The blast obliterated the island of Elugelab, creating an underwater crater 6,240 ft (1.9 km) wide and 164 ft (50 m) deep where the landmass had been.
Ivy Mike’s raging spherical fireball was around 3.25 miles (5.2 km) wide. Its mushroom cloud soared to 57,000 ft (17.0 km) in just 90 seconds, entering the stratosphere, and one minute later reached 108,000 ft (33.0 km), before stabilising at 120,000 ft (37 km); the crown eventually stretched 100 miles (160 km) across with a stem 20 miles (32 km) wide. The nature of the device was such that it produced large quantities of fallout, lethal radioactive particles raining down on Earth.
The perfectly circular expanding shockwave and torrents of water from the explosion stripped the test islands clean of vegetation, while irradiated coral debris fell on ships moored 30 miles (48 km) away. The immediate area around the atoll was heavily contaminated for some time. A censored film of the explosion was released to the public, and was for many days played continually on television channels, the awesome display of power doubtless delighting audiences of the time.