Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.
October 30th, 1961
The “Tsar Bomba”
At 11:32 in the morning on frozen island of Novya Zemlya, the world’s largest explosive device ever tested was detonated by the Soviet Union. It was dubbed the “Tsar Bomba.” The goal was to create a bomb that would help tip the tide in the nuclear arms race with the United States. The bomb itself was truly gargantuan, weighing in at 27 metric tons and 26 feet long. It was too large to be on a missile, and any plane attempting to carry it would have to be heavily modified.
The estimates on the yield of the blast was anywhere from 50 to 150 megatons. The blast itself would eventually be measured at 57 megatons; the equivalent of the blast would be 57million tons of TNT. That makes this bomb 1500 times more powerful than the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The crew for this fateful mission were told to expect only a 50% chance of survival, as they needed to release the bomb and then fly 28 miles to get away safely from the blast radius.
The bomb exploded about 4000m near the targeted zone, and the resulting fireball was an astounding 5 miles in diameter and could be seen up to 600 miles away. The characteristic mushroom cloud rose 47 miles into the air. The results were truly terrifying; everything within 34 miles of ground zero was completely annihilated. The destructive heat from the blast could have caused third degree burns for up to 62 miles away. Windows were recorded shattering in one village nearly 560 miles away from the test site. The pilots of the bomber made it safely away but were still rocked by the tremendous shock wave that caused them to temporarily lose control of their aircraft. The shock wave was recorded by seismologists on its third consecutive pass around the earth.
The only positive result of this bomb’s nightmarish scale was the fact that only two were ever built, with this one being used for testing. The U.S and the Soviet Union realized the futility of ever carrying out such nuclear strikes on each other: it would ensure the destruction of both countries, if not the world as a whole.
Would you like to learn more about the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and how each country sought to compete in the nuclear arms race? The Union University Library has excellent books and media on the subject in the links below: