Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Ivy Mike Day

Happy Ivy Mike Day – or welcome to the Thermonuclear Age Day! October 31st (November 1st locally across the international date line) 1952 was the day the United States exploded the first fusion device.

The actual “Mike” shot was part of the two tests code named “Ivy” test series; the other shot was called “King”. The “King” shot was notable for two reasons, the first being it was a very large fission explosion (500 kiloton yield) in fact it was the largest nuclear detonation to date and the other notable was that an Air Force Pilot was lost when his aircraft ran out of fuel while it was surveying the mushroom cloud.

But the “Mike” shot was used to confirm that a fission reaction could be used to trigger a much more devastating explosion using fusion material. The actual “weapon” was actually a huge building that housed all the apparatus needed for the fusion fuel which was cryogenic deuterium. The primary was a tried and proved TX-5 boosted fission bomb. The two fuels were separated by a rod of plutonium used as a spark plug to ignite the super cooled deuterium.

The mushroom cloud climbs to the heavens. Picture courtesy of the

The resulting explosion vaporized the test island creating a crater more than a mile wide and over 150 feet deep. The Mushroom cloud would grow to a height of more than 25 miles and a crown width of more than 100 miles. Radioactive coral debris fell on ships more than 35 miles away and the remaining Islands that made up the Enewetak Atoll were highly radioactive as well. The explosion was sensed by seismographs all the way in Berkley California where the “Father” of the “Super” as it was called, monitored the test. That being the famed nuclear physicist Edward Teller.

The photo's at left (from the book "Dark Sun, The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb" by Richard Rhodes) shows the damage to the Enewetak Atoll. The island of Elugelab is shown before and after the shot.

The yield of the Ivy Mike shot was 10.4 Mega Tons. This was 1000 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Japan. It is important to state again that this device was not a weapon; it really was more of a test of a concept than anything. In fact the planned “King” shot was designed as a backup for fusion weapons in case they did not work. In reality the “Super” would be proven and three years later the Air Force would be hauling around a 41,000 pound H-bomb in their B-36 Peacemaker aircraft. The new aircraft was huge in order to carry the huge weapon.

More importantly however and as an aside to weapons development is that the fusion device proved that man could create the same energy created by the Sun. This opened the door to the promise and hope of fusion energy. If only man could contain that reaction and convert it to pure energy is the hope.

An auspicious occasion indeed.

BT: Jimmy T sends.

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