October 30, 1961: The most powerful nuclear weapon to detonate is set off. AN602 was a 60,000 pound thermonuclear bomb which was 26 feet in length and 6.9 feet in diameter. It had a 50 megaton TNT blast yield. This yield is approximately 1,350 times the combined power of the bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and ten times the combined power of all the conventional explosives used during World War II. The energy released is about one quarter of the force of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa and is responsible for 10% of all the combined yield of nuclear tests to date. It was a three-stage H-bomb and used a fission bomb primary to compress a thermonuclear secondary – usual for H-bomb design. It then added energy from that explosion to compress a much larger additional thermonuclear stage.
AN602 has another name, Tsar Bomba, meaning the Tsar of bombs. It was also sometimes called the Kuz’kina Mat or Kuzma’s mother which referred to Nikita Khrushchev’s vow that the USSR would show the US it’s power during the 1960 UN General Assembly. It was designed by Yulii Borisovich Khariton and his crew. Only one bomb was ever built and it was detonated in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago at Sukhoy Nos near the Barents Sea and close to the Arctic Ocean. Extra casings were made and they are now located in several different Russian museums.
There is some speculation that Tsar Bomba had several third stages rather than one single large one. The initial plans called for an even larger bomb with a 100 megaton yield but it was realized that the nuclear fallout would be too great and that the blast would be so enormous that the plane delivering the bomb would not have enough time to escape the blast range. Even with this size bomb, the nuclear fallout was limited by installing a lead tamper instead of a uranium-238 fusion tamper. This design meant that about 97% of the total energy resulted from fusion alone and so it was one of the “cleanest” nuclear bombs ever created and had a very low fallout level relative to the size of the blast.
A Tu-95V plane needed to be modified so it could deliver the bomb to the testing site. It was flown my Major Andrei Durnovtsev and flown from Kola Peninsula and accompanied by a Tu-16 observer plane, also modified. The second plane was also to collect air samples. Both planes were painted with a special reflective white paint in order to limit heat damage. Tsar Bomba detonated at 11.32 AM (Moscow time) on this date. It was dropped from an altitude of 6.5 miles and was designed to detonate 2.5 miles over the land surface using barometric sensors. The mushroom cloud was about 40 miles high and the fireball could be seen from 620 miles away. The heat from the explosion could have caused third degree burns to people 60 miles from ground zero, had there been any. Windows in Norway and Finland were broken by the shock waves.
One has to look out for engineers – they begin with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb. – Marcel Pagnol
When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb. – J. Robert Oppenheimer
The only use for an atomic bomb is to keep somebody else from using one. – George Wald
The 20th century was a test bed for big ideas – fascism, communism, the atomic bomb. – P. J. O’Rourke
Also on this day: “Isn’t there … anyone?”– In 1938, the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds led to panic in the streets.
Europe and Asia Linked – In 1973, the first Bosphorus Bridge was completed.
Rebuilding – In 2005, the rebuilt Dresden Frauenkirche was reconsecrated.
Transplant – In 1960, the first kidney transplant in the UK was performed.
Banquet of the Chestnuts – In 1501, Cesare Borgia threw a party.
* “Tsar Bomba Revised” by User:Croquant with modifications by User:Hex – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tsar_Bomba_Revised.jpg#/media/File:Tsar_Bomba_Revised.jpg