Although we’d argue that climate change is the existential threat worth keeping your eye on, it can’t be denied that nuclear war has become ever so slightly more likely in recent years thanks to, well, you-know-who and whats-his-face. Naturally, people are a little worried about what might happen if war were to break out, and a nuke found its way onto their heads.
Fortunately, there’s an interactive map service that will let you know, with visual flair and considerable detail, what would happen should a thermonuclear device erupt hellfire on your house. This new tool comes courtesy of the Outrider Foundation – a scientific, educational outreach group that envisions “a world where people live without fear of nuclear annihilation or climate-induced catastrophe.”
As noted by Gizmodo, it was partly inspired by the work of Alex Wellerstein – an assistant professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology and a renowned expert on the history of nuclear weapons – whom we’ve previously chatted to about the process in which the American President would order a nuclear strike.
Similarly to Wellerstein’s NukeMap, this allows you to choose you nuclear device – which have different detonation designs and explosive yields – and your location, and you get to watch as the blast annihilates everything around it.
You also get to choose between a surface blast and an air burst detonation. The latter, thanks to a quick bit of physics, leads to a larger shock wave, as well as a more expansive thermal radiation coverage; conversely, the former spreads radiation further and produces a larger, wider fireball.
The explosion is broken down into four different components: the fireball, the radiation, the shockwave and the “heat” or thermal radiation. Everything happens in mere moments to be essentially instantaneous to anyone caught within the blast radius, but there is an order to things.
The fireball forms first, less than a millionth of a second after the detonation occurs. It’s so hot that everything in its immediate vicinity is sublimated – turned from a solid straight into the gas – evaporated or ionized into a plasma.
At the same time, thermal radiation cascades out from the epicenter, which can give you first-, second- or third-degree burns as it does so, depending on shielding and distance. Nuclear radiation – mostly neutrons and gamma rays – will shoot outwards in all directions.
As the fireball expands, this vaporized matter shoots skyward as cool air is entrained at the base of the explosion. It eventually begins to cool and condense out, which forms the basis of much of the radioactive fallout from the mushroom-shaped cloud.
Simultaneously, the pressure (shock) wave moves outwards. If this is an air blast, as aforementioned, the waves constructively merge to form a far more damaging “Mach” wave. The fireball re-emits some secondary thermal radiation for several seconds at this time, before it burns out somewhat, and you’re left with “just” the fallout to deal with.
Although each weapon can be tweaked to varying degrees, the general distribution of energy is generally biased toward the blast and shockwave, which uses around 50 percent of the total. The thermal radiation takes up around 35 percent, and the immediate and delayed nuclear radiation uses up the remaining 15 percent.
Depending on how the bomb is detonated, how protected you are, and which way the wind is blowing – which controls the fallout distribution – your chances of survival will vary wildly.
So there’s the science behind the destruction. Share your aesthetically pleasing maps of death in the comments, if you so desire.