We know what kind of damage a nuclear bomb can do on Earth—but what about space? Back in the '60s, nuclear testers decided to find out for themselves what a nuke could do hundreds of miles above the Earth, and 50 years later we finally get to see the awesome declassified footage.
Dubbed "Starfish Prime," the 1962 operation blasted a 1.45 megaton (by comparison, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only 16 and 21 kilotons each) nuclear weapon 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean into low Earth orbit, where it was detonated. You know, for science.
The explosion, which occurred about 30 miles higher than the orbit of the International Space Station, was so powerful that it put on quite a light show in the skies over the Pacific, and even caused problems with power lines and circuits in Hawaii, 600 miles away from the Starfish Prime launch site.
But why do this test in the first place, other than "because we can"? Scientists launched the bomb in an effort to study its effect on the Van Allen Radiation Belts, bands of powerful electrons and protons that work with Earth's own magnetic field. Apparently there was an idea that the bomb could shift the belts in a way that would benefit U.S. national defense.
But even if the bomb had somehow manipulated the belts in America's favor, such an effort couldn't be made today. Various nuclear treaties prevent operations like Starfish Prime. Plus, you know, we've got space stations and satellites and things up there, and they're expensive.
Check out the footage from Starfish Prime below. The fireworks begin at about the 8-minute mark.
(Via Huffington Post)