Tales from the Nuclear Age
Copyright © 2013 by Charles Glassmire
Jun. 24, 2013
On August 30, 1961, the Soviet Union announced they were ending a three-year moratorium on nuclear testing; they then began a long series of large nuclear detonations. In response, the United States began planning an anti-ballistic missile strategy. A joint effort in testing by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defense Atomic Support Agency was begun using high-altitude nuclear bursts which would hopefully destroy an incoming ICBM. On 9 July 1962, the Starfish Prime nuclear test was detonated in the Central Pacific at an altitude of about 250 miles above Johnston Island. The warhead was rated at 1.4 megatons and it detonated as planned. At that instant, the Hawaiian Islands, located some 900 miles away, experienced a travelling blackout of electricity service, throwing some major cities on the islands into darkness.(4)
In major Hawaiian cities, 300 street lights immediately blacked out. As switches and current regulators burned, burglar alarms all over the cities began to sound. Some microwave telephone links among the islands were destroyed as microwave towers acted like long antennas picking up the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse); as did long lines and circuits induced with current. Electrical generators stopped their output of electricity as giant coils were affected by induced surges.
“Strong electromagnetic signals were observed from the burst, as were significant magnetic field disturbances and earth currents.” (5)
“…At 0900 GMT a brilliant white flash burned through the clouds rapidly changing to an expanding green ball of irradiance extending into the clear [night] sky above the overcast. From its surface extruded great white fingers, resembling cirro-stratus clouds, which rose to 40 degrees above the horizon in sweeping arcs turning downward toward the poles and disappearing in seconds to be replaced by spectacular concentric cirrus-like rings moving out from the blast at tremendous initial velocity, finally stopping when the outermost ring was 50 degrees overhead. They did not disappear but persisted in a state of frozen stillness. All this occurred, I would judge, within 45 seconds.(5)
“…As the greenish light turned to purple and began to fade at the point of burst, a bright red glow began to develop on the horizon at a direction 50 degrees northeast and simultaneously 50 degrees southeast, expanding inward and upward until the whole eastern sky was a dull burning red semicircle… halfway to the zenith obliterating some of the lesser stars. This condition, interspersed with tremendous white rainbows, persisted no less than seven minutes…”(5)
The Starfish Prime test created a far larger than expected electromagnetic pulse (EMP) than was anticipated by planners. Many of the test instruments were “driven off scale” (3) . This caused serious problems in attaining accurate test data, and in understanding the nature of the EMP phenomenon.
The Gamma rays from the test further injected very high energy beta particles (energetic Compton electrons) which followed the magnetic field of the Earth, and some were deposited into low Earth orbit. They lingered for some time and were eventually recorded by Brown in the Journal of Geophysical Research as new radiation belts around the Earth.(8) Almost immediately, three satellites in low orbit were damaged. Eventually seven more satellites failed, when their solar arrays and/or electronics were damaged by the free electrons. These included Telstar(6)((the first commercial communications satellite), TRAAC, Transit 4B, Injun 1 and Ariel 1.(6)(7) Later evidence showed damage to Explorer 14, Explorer 15 and Relay 1.(7)
Sometime later, calculations of the strength of the EMP at the surface indicated this type of detonation could cause, not just a serious problem, rather an EMP weapon detonated over Kansas at an altitude of 200 miles or greater, could virtually shut down the communications, electrical generation, auto and truck transport in the U.S., radio broadcast and telephone and land line transmission systems of the entire country.
The Federation of American Scientists noted “…The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air… a large device detonated at 400-500 Km (250 to 312 miles) over Kansas would affect all of the continental U.S. The signal from such an event extends to the visual horizon as seen from the burst point…” (9)(2)
(to be continued…)
NOTE: A monochrome Youtube video of the Starfish Prime event created by Joint Task Force Eight and DSWA, and some other shots in the Operation Fish Bowl series, may be seen. Note the interesting color effects which appear near the end of the sequence:
(1) The Nuclear Weapons Archive, Operation Dominic, http://nuclearweaponsarchive.org/Usa/Tests/Dominic.html.
(2) “Electromagnetic Pulse”, Wickipedia.org.
(3) “Starfish Prime”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime.
(4) “The Effects of Nuclear Weapons”, Dept. of the Army pamphlet No. 50-3, March 1977.
(5) “A ‘Quick Look’ at the Technical Results of Starfish Prime”, U.S. Dept. of Defense, Report ADA955411, www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA955411&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf, August 1962, pp. 19-21.
(6) “Space Systems Failures: Disasters and Rescues of Satellites, Rocket and Space Probes”, Ralph D. Lorenz, David Michael arland, Springer. ISBN 0-387-21519, 2005.iiHarland, Springer, ISBN 0-387-21519-0, (2005).
(8) Brown, W.L. and Gabbe J.D, The Electron Distribution in the Earth’s Radiation Belts during July 1962, Journal of Geophysical Research, 68 (3), March, 1963.
(9) Federation of American Scientists, Nuclear Weapon EMP Effects (http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm).