Some encounters you remember better than others.
Above, two photos of the 22-kiloton nuclear test codenamed MET, part of the series Operation Teapot, detonated at Frenchman Flat, Nevada, with military observers first shielding their eyes, then regarding the debris cloud, today in 1955.
The ratings on this one were sky high.
Above is a photo of the U.S. nuclear test Upshot–Knothole Annie, which was conducted as part of a series of explosions known as Operation Upshot–Knothole. Scientists studied the effect of a nuclear blast on wooden houses (wiping out any possible equity), a bunch of automobiles (totally ruining their resale value), and eight bomb shelters (which actually functioned properly, but with a blasted radioactive landscape crawling with ravenous zombies, what would be the point of surviving?). Interestingly, the test was broadcast on national television, which goes to show you can convince people to watch anything, even a vision of their own future destruction. The broadcast was also recorded on a kinescope, which makes it a rare recording of the actual sound of an atomic blast—the last sound you hear. That was today in 1953.
There's life on Earth. But is it intelligent life?
And speaking of Halloween frights, there's a theory in science that's gaining traction of late. Maybe you won't find this interesting but we did. First consider that even with life sustaining conditions assumed to be incredibly rare, cosmically speaking, the fact that almost every observed star has planets leads to the estimate of 100 billion planets in our galaxy. That number renders the long odds of perfect life generating conditions moot—there are certainly millions of planets with life, probably many thousands with intelligent life, and virtually any scientist you talk to outside of a political environment will tell you that. So why haven't we detected anything? The age of the civilization is a factor, distance is a second factor, point of origin of signal emission is another, and the perfect timing for us intercept a signal is yet another.
But here's the theory: a civilization advancing to the point that it can emit signals into space is a function of technological development, which in turn hinges on energy. Whatever form an alien race takes, it must advance through stages of energy generation. And since nuclear physics are a constant throughout this universe, every advancing civilization will eventually discover nuclear power. It's the most obvious energy form of all, because every sun in every sky shines as an example of it. It's possible that very few civilizations survive advancing through the various stages of dirty and dangerous energy generation. Nearly all collapse their ecosystems, which in turn leads to extinction. Just some food for thought this lovely Thursday as you look at these photos of a Russian nuclear test at Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, conducted today in 1951.
It was full speed ahead in the Cold War.
This spectacular photo shows the test of a nuclear torpedo detonated today in 1955 by the Soviet Union at Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago above the Arctic Circle. The weapon sent a massive debris cloud erupting into the atmosphere, which you can see in a video here. It was one of seven tests the Soviets conducted that year, and they and the United States were just getting heated up in their insane nuclear race.
With house prices today, this is looking like a real bargain.
They just don't build them like they used to. Above you see a U.S. Energy Department photo that's been well-circulated around the internet showing the shell of a house that endured the Apple II nuclear test, a 29-kiloton shot fired today in 1955. The building was part of Survival Town, a collection of homes, fallout shelters, power systems, and communications hubs erected in the Nevada desert to gauge the effects of nuclear explosions on civilian structures. The effect, predictably, was catastrophic, but this one lived through it. With a little effort it could become a nice Airbnb.
A thorn in the side of the world.
The above photo shows the detonation of the Cactus nuclear device, which was set off today in 1958 on Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, South Pacific, as part of Operation Hardtack I. Yes, there were so many nuclear tests during the ’50s and ’60s that quite a few occurred on the same day in different years. Instead of leaving a house behind Cactus left a crater 346 feet in diameter and forty feet deep. Which these days also could probably be made into an Airbnb.
Ban the bomb! The other side's bomb, we mean.
Soviet painter Nikolai Litvinov was a prolific producer of political art during the Cold War. Above you see one of his efforts—an anti-nuclear poster from printers Sovetsky Khudozhnik with text that reads: “May There Be Peace!” This is from 1959, but we've seen some purported to be from 1961, so if that's the case these were probably made throughout the early Cold War. Blaming the other side for the nuclear arms race was of course the same strategy employed by the U.S. We're going to get back to Litvinov shortly. In the meantime, you can see more Soviet propaganda here, some U.S. propaganda here, and a mixture from several countries here.
Soviet propaganda takes aim at the U.S.
Conflict and propaganda go hand in hand. During the Cold War the U.S. and Russia both produced political art bashing the other side, and some of that art has reached collector status today. We have an example above and below—a Soviet pamphlet featuring ink drawings by famed illustrator Alexander Moiseevich Zhytomyr attacking various aspects of the U.S., including capital punishment, mass incarceration, and nukes. Though the pamphlet was printed in 1964, most of the content is from earlier, generally the late 1940s. Basically, it's all pretty much self-explanatory, and timely too, considering many Americans are now highly critical of the same elements of their own country that the Soviets attack here. Whatever your politics happen to be, these pieces are all objectively quite nice. Have a look below.
Just the thing for a cross-country trip.
This photo shows the crater made by the Sedan nuclear test, also known as the Storax Sedan test, which happened today in 1962 as part of Operation Storax. The crater is the result of an explosion that displaced twelve million tons of earth, and at 320 feet deep and 1280 feet in diameter is the largest man-made crater in the United States. It's also—bizarrely we think—listed on the National Register of Historic Places, especially weird when you consider that it sent two radioactive plumes wafting northeast from the Nevada explosion site, cross country from state to unsuspecting state, to settle especially heavily upon Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois. Of all the nuclear tests conducted in the United States, Sedan ranked highest in overall activity of radionuclides in fallout, distributing nearly 7% of the total amount of radiation which fell on the U.S. population during all of the nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Historic indeed. You see the explosion that caused all that below.
Last star you see in your life.
This photo shows the French nuclear test codenamed Aldébaran, after an orange giant star in the constellation Taurus. If the photo were in color, the light from the explosion would indeed be orange at this stage, but we actually prefer this black and white shot. It was France's first nuclear test, to be followed by 209 more, including 50 in the open atmosphere. Most took place on on Mururoa Atoll, leading to rampant radioactivity which the French government managed to keep secret until just a few years ago. Aldébaran was detonated today in 1966.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Khrushchev Visits U.S.
Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. The two week stay includes talks with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as a visit to a farm and a Hollywood movie set, and a tour of a "typical" American neighborhood, upper middle class Granada Hills, California.
1959—Soviets Send Object to Moon
The Soviet probe Luna 2 becomes the first man-made object to reach the Moon when it crashes in Mare Serenitatis. The probe was designed to crash, but first it took readings in Earth's Van Allen Radiation Belt, and also confirmed the existence of solar wind.
1987—Radiation Accident in Brazil
Two squatters find a container of radioactive cesium chloride in an abandoned hospital in Goiânia, Brazil. When the shielding window is opened, the bright blue cesium becomes visible, which lures many people to handle the object. In the end forty-six people are contaminated, resulting in illnesses, amputations, and deaths, including that of a 6-year-old girl whose body is so toxic it is buried in a lead coffin sealed in concrete.
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