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Author Topic: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?  (Read 16610 times)

Offline chris

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Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« on: 09/10/2013 23:49:49 »
I was asked today whether a nuke would still have the same destructive power in space.

Specifically, the devastating power of a nuclear bomb is down to a huge shockwave unleashed when the weapon superheats the air, producing a sizzlingly hot bubble that blitzes anything in its path.

But in the vacuum of space, apart from the materials from which a bomb is itself composed, there's no air to heat, so what would happen if a nuclear weapon went off in space? What would be the effect?


 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #1 on: 10/10/2013 01:53:19 »
Are you saying that Project Orion might have fizzled had it actually been launched?  Perhaps also subjecting the pusher plate to far greater erosion than might occur in the atmosphere.

It looks like a similar question came up earlier, more or less with the same interpretation as you had thought.

Your shockwave would be reduced by the inverse square law, but particles would propagate much further in space than would occur in Earth's atmosphere.
« Last Edit: 10/10/2013 01:56:35 by CliffordK »
 

Offline wolfekeeper

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #2 on: 16/10/2013 22:27:51 »
Project Orion had fuel as part of the bomb; basically they were nuclear shape charges. When the bomb went off it vapourised and threw the fuel towards the pusher plate; this then caused it to rebound back into space and the pusher plate got a 1000g acceleration and it was caught by the dampers.

In general, nuclear bombs do give a somewhat different effect in space, and fairly obviously there's no fireball.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #3 on: 17/10/2013 09:39:56 »
I think a nuclear explosion in space would turn the matter of the nuclear device (and anything close-by) into a super-hot plasma (fireball) which would expand out in all directions as a sphere rather than a mushroom cloud.
  • As it expanded it's temperature would cool down, and its main thermal radiation would pass through X-Rays, visible light and into the infra-red. This would cause considerable thermal shock to nearby satellites.
  • With no atmosphere to slow it down, the radioactive debris from the bomb would travel for long distances at great velocity, damaging satellites.
  • The nuclear radiation would carry much further in space - gamma rays and neutrons could do considerable damage at long distance.
  • The part of Earth's atmosphere exposed to the gamma rays would produce an electromagnetic pulse, damaging electrical and electronic systems on Earth for a thousand kilometers around.
Please don't explode nuclear weapons in space! (It is banned by a treaty)
...and even one test of a conventional antisatellite weapon has created a considerable cloud of space junk circling Earth.
 

Offline Pmb

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #4 on: 22/10/2013 07:10:52 »
I was asked today whether a nuke would still have the same destructive power in space.

Specifically, the devastating power of a nuclear bomb is down to a huge shockwave unleashed when the weapon superheats the air, producing a sizzlingly hot bubble that blitzes anything in its path.

But in the vacuum of space, apart from the materials from which a bomb is itself composed, there's no air to heat, so what would happen if a nuclear weapon went off in space? What would be the effect?
Yes. A nuclear bomb would work in space. In fact that's one of the tools being considered to knock asteroids and comets off their trajectory if they should intersect with earth.

While a nuke does heat up the atmosphere and does cause a blast wave, it does these things beause it generates a burst of raw plasma (consisting of sub atomic material and ions) having enourmous amounts of kinetic energy. It would still vaporize anything near it just as it would in an atmosphere.
 

Offline ChucklesTheHut

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #5 on: 22/04/2016 16:45:31 »
Maybe NASA could help answer that for you.

http:// history.nasa.gov/conghand/nuclear.htm
 

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Re: Would nuclear weapons still work in space?
« Reply #5 on: 22/04/2016 16:45:31 »

 

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