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Not doing this experiment again soon: 60 years ago the US created the first man-made aurora and EMP

h/t Tallbloke

Starfish Prime was the largest Nuclear test conducted in space. The 1.4 megaton explosion at 250 miles above Johnson Atoll was a US mission that launched on July 9th 1962. The Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) it generated was much bigger than expected, and knocked out a few satellites, which presumably wasn’t part of the plan. (Future tests were smaller.) The explosion and the aurora it generated was visible nearly 900 miles away in Hawaii where some street lights were blown, some phone lines went down and surges were recorded on planes. Apart from war, it’s hard to imagine this experiment could be done ever again.

The aurora itself lasted less than 15 minutes, but created a belt of MeV electrons. And as many as five years later some of those electrons were still being detected in the atmosphere.

Starfish Prime: The First Accidental Geomagnetic Storm

Dr Tony Phillips, Spaceweatherachive.com

On July 9, 1962, the US military detonated a thermonuclear warhead 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean–a test called “Starfish Prime.” What happened next surprised everyone. Witnesses from Hawaii to New Zealand reported auroras overhead, magnificent midnight “rainbow stripes” that tropical sky watchers had never seen before. Radios fell silent, then suddenly became noisy as streetlights went dark in Honolulu.

From a Spaceweather post last year:

A new paper just published in the research journal Earth and Space Science .. (by)  Love et al describe how a high-altitude nuclear blast jerks Earth’s magnetic field. First, the EMP ionizes a layer of air underneath the bomb. This layer presses downward, pinning Earth’s magnetic field lines in their pre-blast locations. Next, as the ionization subsides, the magnetic field springs back. It’s a sort of heaving, lurching geomagnetic storm.

Handy for finding submarines too apparently?

At twilight after the burst, resonant scattering of light from lithium and other debris was observed at Johnston and French Frigate Shoals for many days confirming the long time presence of debris in the atmosphere. An interesting side effect was that the Royal New Zealand Air Force was aided in anti-submarine maneuvers by the light from the bomb. — Wikipedia

 


National Geographic

As Earth’s magnetic field caught ionized radiation from the Starfish Prime test, it created a new artificial radiation belt that was stronger and longer lasting than scientists had predicted. This unexpected “Starfish belt,” which lingered for at least 10 years, destroyed Telstar 1, the first satellite to broadcast a live television signal, and Ariel-1, Britain’s first satellite.

“It came as a surprise how bad it was, and how long it lasted, and how damaging it was to satellites that flew through that area and died,” Sibeck says.

9.8 out of 10 based on 55 ratings

65 comments to Not doing this experiment again soon: 60 years ago the US created the first man-made aurora and EMP

  • #
    John B

    OMG! Imagine if someone did that today.

    60

    • #
      Binny Pegler

      My thoughts exactly. It would plunge the civilized world into chaos and make Covid look like a walk in the park.

      60

    • #

      You could get some idea of what could happen by reading “Without Warning – America is gone” by Aussie author John Birmingham.

      A wave of inexplicable energy has slammed into America. And destroyed it.
      ..but not all of America is gone. Here and there a city on the edge of the continent escapes the wipeout.
      Who and what will fill the void?

      A little different from a massive EMP that wipes out anything electrical/electronic as humanity within the area is gone also, but thoughtful nonetheless.

      40

    • #
      Leo G

      … if someone did that today

      There would be concern that the event could lead to changes in the atmosphere that could reduce cloud cover for decades thereby increasing surface air and sea temperatures and in turn changing the ocean-atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide and increasing global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

      30

  • #
    James Murphy

    I wonder how many scientists and engineers sat back and seriously contemplated their career choices after that happened?
    Anti-satellite warfare doesn’t need to be this visible or radioactive to be effective – just a few conventional missiles will do the trick, as a few countries have already demonstrated.

    50

  • #
    Peter C

    First I have heard of it, likely the same for others.

    Lots of 60’s stuff likely still classified.

    What will a repeat dose do to our communications? Stock up on some staples in case of emergencency!

    40

    • #
      James Murphy

      It seems there were quite a few miscalculations of yield, but this is one reason for experimentation, I guess…
      The Russians demonstrated the ability to use nuclear weapons to kill an oil well blowout, and I think somewhere in the USA, they considered increasing oil productivity with nuclear bombs too -though maybe they never actually tried it, I’m not too sure.
      I can just imagine the anti-hydraulic fracturing people reacting to “ok, we won’t waste all that water and sand, we’ll just use a nuke instead…”

      50

      • #
      • #
        Lawrie

        Just because we can do something does not mean we should. That is why I think a nuclear war is unlikely. Even the CCP knows that they would be destroyed if they tried to destroy the US. Their cities are far more heavily populated and even Xi probably would prefer not to be vapourised.

        20

        • #
          Ted1

          My view is that Putin has already demonstrated that somebody could be evil enough to do it.

          They tell us that the world’s population will surpass 8 billion later this year.

          But in recent years Russia’s population has been diminishing.

          It’s a different world out there.

          01

    • #
      Sceptical+Sam

      Yes. Classified.

      And for good reason.

      Why do you think cancer has become the affliction of the last half-century?

      51

      • #
        Ian

        “Why do you think cancer has become the affliction of the last half-century?”

        Actually It hasn’t.

        https://ourworldindata.org/cancer

        40

        • #
          KP

          That data is a bit tricky… 14 types of cancer, killing say 40 people each is about 500people per 100,000people. Now, is that 100,000 people per ALL Americans, living at the moment, or just per 100,000 deaths??

          Because 500deaths due to cancer per 100,000deaths total doesn’t seem like a problem to me.

          Looking at their rainbow chart of world cancer deaths we’re not making inroads into curing it at all. Maybe better in the West, at astounding medical costs, but overall more people are dying from every type.

          40

      • #
        It's all BS

        My mother used to say the increase in cancer was due to the increase in the use of aluminium cooking vessels, kettles, teapots etc post WWII. I argued that, post WWII, we have also seen an increase in atmospheric nuclear detonations…
        I am not saying I am right!

        40

    • #
      David Maddison

      Peter, this experiment has been publically known for a long time especially due to the satellite damage and power outages it occurred.

      40

      • #
      • #
        Ted1

        It has long been my understanding that the detonation of a Hydrogen Bomb might blow transistors a hundred miles away.

        Therefore, for security reasons, we should have maintained our copper communications network when establishing our glass fibre network.

        As things now stand we are dependent on complicated factories on the other side of the planet for our communications hardware. At least with bare of transistors copper we would be only 150 years behind the times.

        00

  • #
    Peter C

    The aurora itself lasted less than 15 minutes, but created a belt of MeV electrons. And as many as five years later some of those electrons were still being detected in the atmosphere.

    Mev electroms must be moving very fast! Mev=Million Electron Volts.
    How can they last for 5 years, even in the upper atmosphere? Any one Know?

    90

    • #
      James Murphy

      I think, perhaps mistakenly that a lot of energetic particles got trapped in the Van Allen radiation belt

      50

    • #
      Leo G

      Mev (electrons) must be moving very fast! Mev=Million Electron Volts.

      A relativistic speed of 0.94c (ie 0.94 light speed). Such electrons wouldn’t hang around for years but some of the processes which create them may be persistent.

      20

  • #
    Zane

    Mad scientists are not only in comic books.

    100

    • #
      Philip

      These days they can study and perhaps even practice climate engineering. Good old James Lovelock in the 90s wanted to spray some aerosol in the sky to make it grey and turn down the temperature a bit. One day some nut will do something like this. They are mad after all, and if they study science….well ?

      20

  • #

    Yes, Mad Scientists indeed. And something similar went with all of those Underground Atomic/Nuclear Tests which were eventually banned if memory serves me right. How to start an Earthquake and all that. Bonkers.

    40

  • #
    Kalm Keith

    Maybe the atomic tests in Australia, Maralinga?, after world war 2 is the reason for Australians being so anti-nuclear.

    There was also the more recent atomic bomb testing in the Pacific, near us. John Howard strangely made no criticism of that.

    Now we could be working on eventual nuclear powered electricity but for the lack of trust in politicians.

    The technology is O.K. but the money saving short cuts are not.

    40

    • #

      I heard we considered putting in nuclear power plants in the 60s or 70s but it just wasn’t worth it because we had too much damn cheap coal power. It never made sense. I don’t know that Australians were that anti-nuclear, more that we couldn’t be bothered. But at some point the professional anti-nuclear agitators appeared and we were a pushover because there wasn’t much in the way of industry or jobs that depended on it.

      But readers who remember the times will know more than me…

      160

      • #
        James Murphy

        There was a documentary on it, “Fortress Australia”, which mentions groundwork on a nuclear power plant at Jervis Bay in NSW. no idea if it’s a biased docco or not, as the events are all before my time.
        Some info here: https://shop.nfsa.gov.au/fortress-australia

        50

        • #
          Peter C

          Site works for an Australian Nuclear Power Station were commenced at Jervis Bay but the project was abandoned when McMahon succeeded Gorton as PM in 1971.
          https://nuclear.australianmap.net/jervis-bay/

          40

          • #
            Serp

            Gorton, ever forthright, chose to resign as PM after a party room confidence vote resulted in a tie.

            Years later he stormed the stage and tried to bash Peter Couchman during a discussion forum put on by our ABC.

            In the same program David Lange stood up in the audience and announced “my mother was a fish” and then after inclining his torso to left and right while beaming continued “which demonstrates how rapidly the evolutionary process enhances itself” and then sat down.

            A night to remember…

            41

      • #
        David Maddison

        The nuclear power plants under consideration were Jervis Bay, NSW. They actually started building that (site clearing).

        The other was French Island in Vicdanistan.

        We had some forward thinking people, back in the day.

        70

      • #
        Geoff Sherrington

        Jo,

        In the early 1970s those of us working in the Australian nuclear fuel cycle felt some effects of shadowy forces behind the throne, people unidentifiable by us who were calling the shots on Australian nuclear future progress.
        Australian people were then mostly in favour, curious about, welcoming shiny new technology that had demonstrated potential for cheap and reliable future electricity.
        Then the obstacles started. Just about all of our granted mining licences around our Ranger One deposit at Jabiru were made useless by sudden declaration of national park and then United Nations world heritage listing. We discussed this acquisition with no compensation with friendly pollies but they just squirmed and said it was beyond their control. It was also unconstitutional, but we could not even use that for a case. The High Court said it was too complicated and gave up.
        This was the first time we and possibly most of Australia felt the practical impact of unseen forces that direct our lives. We had commie PMs like Hawke and Keating who went along with Gareth Evans who signed binding new international treaties at a rate many times faster than any before, often with near zero parliamentary debate.
        ………
        So, when people discuss matters like the World Economic Forum dictating our policies and actions, I disregard the innocents who claim it is a myth, dismissed as wild conspiracy theory.
        We have had 50 years of policy directed from behind the curtains and it is time for us to get rid of it.
        It has done no good that I can discern. Geoff S

        90

        • #
          Dennis

          Very few people know about the UN Lima Protocol signed by the Whitlam Labor Government during 1975, and with no objections from the Union Movement as far a I can remember, agreeing to allow the gradual transfer of manufacturing industry from developed nations to developing nations, eg; Australia developed and China developing.

          The Keating Labor Government signed the UN Agenda 21 – Sustainability resulting in creation of National Parks from State Forests and other State land and effectively locking away minerals and energy deposits, banning construction of new dams and much more economic vandalism.

          After the establishment of the United Nations after WW2 Australian Labor (Communist) Attorney General Evatt convinced the leftists who were infiltrating the UN for political purposes that if every member nation could be convinced to sign as many treaties and agreements as possible to produce they could be used to get around the sovereignty of nations, constitutional laws, implementing UN political objectives via legislation and regulation via parliaments with no reference (referendum) to ask the people for their approval.

          10

      • #
        Philip

        we still have damn cheap coal, we just refuse to turn it into cheap power.

        30

      • #
        Ted1

        Jo @#7.1

        Jo, I remember. The “anti-nuclear agitators” were the communists among us, and their campaign had nothing to do with science. Nuclear power stations manufacture the materials from which nuclear armaments are made.

        Their purpose was to hinder western nations in the cold war nuclear arms race.

        00

    • #
      Kalm Keith

      Post WW11, the main image of the term “nuclear” was one of death and destruction.

      Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the undeniable evidence of the danger and the British tests in Australia were not a good look. Colonials were the test bunnies.

      On the international front, many of the later nuclear power plant disasters were associated with cost cutting measures during construction, poor location to save money and extension of plant life beyond that determined by engineers, once again to save money.
      In nuclear engineering greed has a price.

      Australia needs to be involved with a small scale test plant to set up procedures and build a competent base of people capable of bringing “nuclear” power into general use when the time is right. At the moment we have no core skills in nuclear power which would be useful in bringing Small Modular Reactors into use.

      The lack of vision for the future of this country just stinks: we had a great push for twenty years after the end of WW11 and since 1970 have suffered at the hands of politicians who have put self interest above the needs of the nation.

      Why have we de-industrialised, wrecked our nation’s education system, decarbonised and destroyed small business owners with the infamous “lockdowns”.

      At the moment, the indisputable winner for highest cost electricity is the renewables sham, then Nuclear power which is notably cheaper and blitzing those is the Coal fired power generation system that is cheapest.

      100

      • #
        Geoff Sherrington

        KK,
        The standards of engineering and science in the peaceful nuclear sector have, since its beginnings, been among the best, if not the best, of any sector of the economy. Even including Russian efforts, the safety record has been the best of any major global undertaking.
        One simply needs to read a few nuclear science papers, then a few global warming papers, to easily separate the sheep from the goats. Geoff S

        70

      • #
        Philip

        The choice to not build a nuclear power plant was obviously the right one. WE saw the result, which was really cheap electricity. When that coal runs out, we should do nuclear obviously.

        20

  • #
    CHRIS

    Anyone ever heard of the Van Allen Belt? From the comments, I think not.

    40

  • #
    David Maddison

    Starfish Prime was preceded by high altitude nuclear tests of Yucca (26km, 1.7kT), Teak (76km, 3.8MT), Orange (43km, 3.8MT), and three Argus shots (200km, 240km, 540km, all 1.7kT).

    There were also Soviet tests.

    There is a heap of information on all these and much more.

    Also see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328691205_Anthropogenic_Space_Weather

    30

  • #
    David Maddison

    There is an excellent 1995 DVD that’s still available with a lot of new (for the time) and restored footage on the atomic tests.

    It’s called “Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie”.

    Music by Moscow Symphony Orchestra and narrated by William Shatner.

    There is also a poor quality copy on YouTube. https://youtu.be/d83Kr25GHeY

    There is video of space based and underwater explosions toward the end.

    40

    • #
      David Maddison

      Also near the end there is the bizarre spectacle of the first Chi-comm nuclear test and soldiers doing a horseback cavalry charge toward the mushroom cloud.

      61

    • #
      Philip

      watching at the moment. Very good. Thanks.

      10

  • #
    Lawrence Cooper

    The article is a bit inaccurate/incomplete-The Air Force flew a C-130 at the conjugate point in the southern hemisphere. This the opposite end (latitude) of the magnetic field lines where StarFish Prime as detonated. The magnetic/ionization effects caused from the blast were observed and recorded by the C-130 “The visible phenomena due to the burst were widespread and quite intense; a very large area of the Pacific was illuminated by the auroral phenomena, from far south of the south magnetic conjugate area (Tongatapu) through the burst area to far north of the north conjugate area (French Frigate Shoals)…”

    And let’s not forget that the blast knocked out Hawaii’s power grid. A US nuclear submarine docked and used its reactor to provide Hawaii electrical power.

    70

  • #
    Honk R Smith

    Ah, the Cold War of my youth.
    I agree with the Biden administration.
    Its’ return is essential to the Liberal World Order.

    50

    • #
      Honk R Smith

      Hey, it just occurred to me.
      The Global Warming/Climate Change thing started up right as the Cold War ended, right?
      If we can crank up Cold War II (the Putin Chronicles), maybe it will bring about
      the end of Climate Change.
      I mean, the Liberal World Order Promises to end Climate Change, no?
      Cold War … men were men and women were proud.
      Not seeing a downside.

      70

  • #
    bobby b

    I wonder how much it would cost to cobble together a small improvised nuclear device and attach it to a small rocket – just large enough to make 100 miles up – and set it off.

    Seems to me it would be well within the scope of most medium-size terrorist orgs across the world. Wonder why it hasn’t happened yet.

    Time to buy more rice and bullets, I guess.

    40

    • #
      KP

      Plenty of missiles being sold to anyone in Ukraine at the moment.. A lot of the anti-tank/anti-aircraft ones donated have ‘gone missing’. The newer MLRS rockets the Yanks are sending over will carry 240kg up 50Km. Since they withdrew from the medium-range ballistic treaty with Russia a few years ago they have started on bigger versions with more range.

      Can’t be hard to build, its not rocket science… look at Elon!

      20

  • #
    Old Goat

    This could well be the reason why NATO doesn’t want to go into Ukraine . Most of the “smart” weapons use GPS or GLONASS and those systems could be destroyed in short order . It would also render most drones and missiles ineffective due to electromagnetic noise and destruction of electronics . Vladimir could use his hypersonic missiles to detonate over the USA . Complete game changer – WW3 would be back to tanks, artillery and bullets for the survivors of the initial nukes (if any) . No winners..

    30

  • #
    Kevin Kilty

    My father thought we’d see something from Starfish prime and got me outta’ bed, I was only 10y.o., about 2 a.m. I do not recall seeing a thing. This wasn’t the first nuclear test that was “exoatmosphere”. There were a series of tests in 1958 one of which was Hardtack Teak; so I’m sure people new there’d be an EMP from Starfish, but perhaps the effects on electrical distribution surprised them.

    10

  • #
    John Connor II

    The timing on this post is very curious.
    Are you hinting at anything by chance, Jo? 😉

    21

  • #
    Will Gray

    Earth’s magnetic field has rapidly decreased over the past decade and continues its way as well I have correlation to the Sun appearing intensely WHITE for many years now.

    40

  • #
    el+gordo

    Could it have had an impact on our weather?

    ‘The winter of 1962–1963, known as the Big Freeze of 1963, was one of the coldest winters on record in the United Kingdom. Temperatures plummeted and lakes and rivers began to freeze over.’ (wiki)

    00

    • #

      I initially thought that too. Then I came across this reference about “pre-1900 “frosts” in the UK. It makes interesting reading – this about the 1879-1880 event:

      In the middle of January, 1880, it was expected by many that a Frost Fair would once more be held on the Thames. The last two months of 1879 and the opening month of 1880 were extremely cold. The President of the Meteorological Society in his report, 1880, says, “The period through which we have been passing since October, 1878, has been one of great cold, in many respects without precedent during nearly a quarter of a century. The harvest of 1879 is recorded as the worst ever known. Shrubs, even hollies, little short of 100 years old were killed. Birds were destroyed, Robin Redbreasts took shelter in our houses; all the rivers in England were frozen over. It is stated that Major Slack of[81] the 63rd Regiment, at Oakamoor Station, railway lamps were frozen out, and that rabbits pushed for food had attacked the oil and grease on the station crane.” At Chirmside Bridge a temperature of 6° below zero was observed. Peach trees 60 years old were killed to the roots. The evergreens, laurels, rhododendrons, hollies in many instances, Wellingtonias, and many others were all killed, and many people frozen to death. This frost began on the 22nd November, 1879, and on the 2nd February, 1880, a thaw began.

      There are many similar descriptions – makes you thankful that it is a few degrees warmer now and these freezing events are less common.

      10