In the early hours of 30 October 1961, a bomber took off from an airstrip in northern Russia and began its flight through cloudy skies over the frigid Russian Arctic. Hanging below this Soviet plane was a nuclear bomb the size of a small school bus. It was the largest and most powerful bomb ever to be created, and it was about to be tested.
The Tsar Bomba’s gigantic detonation was intended to be secret, but was detected by American intelligence agencies—bringing brewing Cold War tensions to fever pitch. The thermonuclear hydrogen bomb yielded the equivalent of 50–58 megatons of TNT, enough to annihilate a small country. The resultant mushroom cloud reached an altitude seven times higher than Mount Everest, and its 8-km-wide wide fireball could be seen from almost 1,000km away.
This week, James is joined by Alex Wellerstein, an expert on the history of nuclear weapons. Together they discuss their development from WW2 to today, and the terrifying legacy of the largest man-made explosion in history.