Andrew James John Mackenzie
an historiography
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Creating Supernovas; Nuclear Strikes in Space

Nuclear testing abounded for many years at the height of the Cold War. Land, sea and air detonation occurred in both the East and the West, by both the US and the USSR, together with the People’s Republic of China and other high power states. Pictures of nuclear explosions are literally seared in the imaginings of those that view the footage or have seen them in person. Space operations are more of an unknown for many others.

On July 9th 1962, the US government carried out tests, detonating a nuclear weapon, dubbed operation Starfish Prime, over 386,000 meters (240 miles) in the sky. The payload had an explosive yield of 1.45 megatons, equating to more than 100 times the strength of the Atom Bomb utilised against Hiroshima, Imperial Japan in 1945.

 

This operation was one of five suborbital nuclear tests executed by the US Government as a part of their struggle in continuing the nuclear arms race against the Soviet Union. Their rationale being to determine the effect of nuclear weapons in high altitudes/outer space environments. Once detonated, the nuclear warhead generates not only heat and light, but an enormous amount of X- and gamma ray radiation. In 1962, the effects of the nuclear detonation were felt thousands of kilometres away, with the effects still resonant in the present day.

 

Indeed, effects were felt from Hawaii to New Zealand, with planes experiencing electrical surges, lights were blown out and a giant aurora bloomed in the sky. Moreover, above the earth, an electromagnetic field was created.

 

This is what the explosion looked like in video form:



On the ground, the effects were astonishing:



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