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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

What the Hell Were We Thinking?

By Phil Plait
nuclear weapon test

This is a video that starts slow, but around 3 minutes in ... well. It shows every nuclear bomb explosion on the Earth from 1945 - the US test before the bombs dropped on Japan - to 1998, when India and Pakistan joined the madness.


The animation is an art project by Isao Hashimoto, and is powerful indeed. I grew up when the cold war was at its coldest, and seeing this still gives me a chill. In May 1998 I was at a meeting in the Canary Islands when India and Pakistan tested their weapons, and I had a hard time finding news in English (the Internet was unreliable there and then, too). Not knowing what was going on was maddening, but not nearly as maddening as what I did know.

These weapons are out of the bottle, and even though there has been no detonation in over a decade, the knowledge of how to build them will always be with us. We use nuclear power for peaceful purposes now, and in the future we may even use it for exploring the solar system and beyond -- we already use fissile material to power some probes - but we should always bear in mind the first use to which this power was put.

Tip o' the Pu-238 to AstronomyBlog, who retweeted PekingSpring.