Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chapter 10: We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to learn about bombs

Let’s take a break from plot and character development for a bit to learn a little science. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything boring like memorizing the periodic table of elements or filling out little Punnet squares to figure out which parents are most likely to have creepy ginger kids. No, we’re going to be discussing explosions. Two types, in fact.

The first we are going to discuss are nuclear weapons. These are warheads whose yields are so powerful they had to take the most explodey thing known to man for a long time, TNT, and multiply it’s explosive potential if a ton of it blew up, to determine one one-thousandth the power of the baseline measurement, a kiloton. (That’s a thousand tons for the decimal and math illiterate) Now, these days, you rarely heard the term “kiloton” any more, because they were left far behind once we started using megaton nukes. That’s because a “megaton” is a million tons of TNT equivalent, and that is fucking horrifying.

A single stick of TNT can reduce a human to chunks and red spray, which means a nuke can literally make you cease to exist. Hell, build a bomb big enough and you can probably erase a person from our collective memory.

Now, the warheads fired at Hawaii during the SEAL Tigershark invasion were in the 20 to 30 megaton range. Anything more than that and you literally risk causing an earthquake (don’t believe us, look up “Tsar Bomba”). They flattened parts of Hawaii, eradicated most native species and made Kilauea go batshit for decade.

Here’s how a nuke works:

When the fusion, fission/fusion, or fission reaction kicks off, a ridiculous amount of energy is released. The sudden release of an atom splitting (okay, several thousand) or several fusing together creates a light brighter and hotter than the sun. The sudden release of energy causes the surrounding air to expand rapidly, creating a shock-wave. This is a understatement to say the least, since depending on the size of the bomb, this can radiate outward for many tens of miles, or in the case of that Tsar Bomba up there, 600 miles, and causing a seismic wave that circled the earth 3 times.

Along with that light comes all the fun colors of the rainbow (but they are so bright, they will make you eyes explode in the sockets, so just trust us on that one. Don’t look. Duck and cover.) including ultraviolet, infrared, x-rays, gamma rays, microwaves, etc. Unfortunately, the effect is much more like that of a lab technician than hasn’t worn their vest (cancer) or that of a microwaved potato than the awesome things comics would have you believe gamma rays can do (like make you indestructible when pissed off or turn invisible).

Remember that blast wave? well, if you are close enough, you won’t have to worry; it will be blowing apart your charred remains or maybe buff the surface your carbon shadow was imprinted upon. No kidding, people near ground-zero of a nuclear blast are often reduced to little more than silhouettes. In fact, what’s left of Honolulu looks like a mural of panicking people and flying sharks has been rubbed with charcoal onto the buildings and sidewalks. Nope, those were once panicking civilians and SEAL Tigersharks.

You know that old stock footage of the nuclear explosion, where they show the house, suddenly everything gets real bright, and a puff of smoke flies off the front of the building? That was a nuclear detonation; before the overpressure phase (more on this in a second), the sheer volume of light put out by the blast instantly vaporized the paint off the house. Imagine that was you; Sure, your skin is thicker than paint, but the cinder blocks the paint was on was likely much tougher than you.

Which brings us to overpressure. That blast wave we mentioned? That is overpressure. It’s when the heat released by the explosion causes the air around it to expand rapidly. For some perspective; if you’ve ever witnessed some “genius” brain donor pour cold water into an overheating car radiator, then watched as steam blasted out and scared the shit out of him, you have witnessed this on a smaller scale. When things heat, they expand. That water in the radiator almost instantly hit the boiling point of water, expanded as water vapor, and shot out through the hole in the top, making the world a bit moister (and dumber).

Now, in the case of the nukes, it is only heating air, but that air is heating to millions of degrees in a fraction of a second. When that light (and infrared and ultraviolet) hit an object, especially on a clear day, it is intense enough to set anything remotely flammable on fire, in some cases things too far away to be affected by the blast wave. So there you go, you can be blinded and incinerated but not knocked over. Irony is pretty cruel sometimes.

The “good” news is that anything inside the blast range will be put out shortly. Yay! The bad news is that it will be at the hands of air pressure comparable to being at the bottom of the ocean, travelling at hundreds of miles an hour. This has a fairly negative impact on things that are alive or once living. Any cavities, like the lungs and stomach, collapse, and any point in the body that has a different density (all of you, in other words, since humans are made up entirely of bones connected to flesh) gets ripped apart. But hey, don’t worry; your brain cooked seconds ago and you can’t feel it!

This wave is usually strong enough to plow over buildings, at least those that aren’t incredibly strong (like that house with the vaporising paint, it falls over like a house of cards around careless children. Careless, nuclear children.

Then there are the other effects (as if burning and smashing everything for miles weren’t enough), like the EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that will create high voltage currents in any unprotected electrical system it hits. So your computer, iPod and most of your car would suddenly cook themselves to a crisp, assuming they have not already been burned in hellfire and and scattered by an artificial class 7 fire hurricane.

Next is the radiation. This results in mutant babies and slow, agonizing deaths. It sucks. They can also cause small earthquakes. Then there is the fact that any random shit that was near the blast zone has spent the past several seconds airborne, and will be dropping from the sky at some point. The list of possible falling, deadly bodies include, but are not limited to:
bodies (duh)
hot tubs
charred rocks
charred people
squirrels (charred, likely)
witches (good or bad)

The sudden ionization of air causes spectacular lightning shows near the fireball and mushroom cloud. Oh yeah, the fireball. This is the flame put out by the blast; reality itself has pretty much caught on fire and rises “slowly” (it looks slow because it is fucking huge, and if you are alive and seeing it, you are very, very far away) into the air. Remember that blast wave? Well, once that peters out, the rising fireball leaves a void.  The cap of the mushroom is the hell-spawned inferno, and there is often a ring of “incandescent material” called awesomely the vortex ring caused by convection currents, because as the superheated ball of death rises into the stratosphere, the outside of it cools and falls.

You know the “stem” of a mushroom cloud? That is a column of dirt and debris, being sucked up into the vacuum created by the rising fireball cap. That means if, by some insane miracle you survived being smashed, burned and vaporized, you would then get sucked up into the upper atmosphere, only to fall sometime later. All of this often leads to a firestorm which is like the nuke pissing all over the people it just shot, burned and beat up. Nukes are assholes; it’s what they were made to be.

We mention all of this because science can be really interesting, and it is all relevant, because that is exactly what happened to Hawaii, 30 times. Several were as big as the Tsar Bomba (okay okay, no need to look it up, it was a Russian nuke tested in the 1960s and was 50 megatons. The explosion was so big, the Russians, who fear nothing, said “Oh fuck, maybe not, ok?”) and left Hawaii a shattered landscape of ruins. But really, who can blame them? There was a SEAL Tigerhsark infestation, and when people are being eaten by the flying, crawling spawn of a shark famous for eating turtles, motorcycles and suits of armor, you nuke them from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure.

Incidentally, despite the horrors ravaged upon the people of Hawaii by the US government, they (the Hawaiians) still maintain it was worth it; they really hate those sharks.

This all leads us to another explosive technology; one that doesn’t alter reality, but is still pretty godamn terrifying and horribly demoralizing., It is also one that will prove more effective than nukes against the tigersharks (because really, who didn’t see it coming that introducing the mutating powers of radiation to a mutant species might be a bad idea? Especially since sharks are cancer resistant and were one of the first species to repopulate the nuked Bikini atoll?) because it is devastatingly powerful, and won’t kill half the island nation with leukemia.

They are called Thermobarics. It’s a portmanteau (which is a 12 dollar word for “word made out of 2 words smooshed together”) of “thermo” which means heat, and “baric” (like in barometer) which means “pressure”. Don’t worry, we had to look it up, too. They are also called “fuel air” bombs, which will make some sense next chapter, just wait.

While nukes rely on hard to find super materials that can kill you by looking at you like radium, plutonium and uranium, thermobarics only use regular explosives, they just use them really fucking hard. Interestingly, they apparently got the idea from a horrible side effect of wheat chaff in farm silos. The ultra-fine dust particles would get stirred up in the silo, and maybe a little static would cause a couple specs to burn. They ignited the ones next to them, which ignited the ones next to them, and on and on until the silo blows up causing everything with pants within 5 miles of the silo to crap them. The idea is similar to the air expansion caused by the nuke blast, only this is on a much smaller scale, millions of times over.

They (military scientists) figured out that if wussy old normally not explosive wheat chaff could turn into military grade weapons, then military grade explosives would then make, like super military grade weapons!. So that’s what they did; they developed weapons that were two stage explosives. The first acts like cousin Jeb stirring up the chaff. A weak explosive spreads the liquid or powdered explosives in aerosol form over a wide area. The next explosion ignites it, and instead of a single big boom, you get a... well, a single big boom, but it is made up of billions of microscopic booms. The result is less horrible than the nuclear explosion, but that is like saying Hitler was less horrible than Stalin, it’s all relative and at the end of the day, you really can’t choose one over the other.

What you wind up with is a conventional explosive that is roughly the size of the area filled with the boom-vapor, so if the first stage scatters it’s mist over the area of a football field (that would take a lot of fuel, by the way) you have essentially instantly made a bomb the size of a football field. There is the bonus of the whole thing being over in half a second and no radioactive fallout, like with the nuke.

Thermobarics come with their own platter of horrifying side effects, in case you thought we were going to bore you with just a big boom. They create a smaller scale overpressure wave like the nukes, and anyone not incinerated by the fireball will be smashed like someone dropped a tank on them. So maybe you somehow managed to survive the burning and smashing again (you’re kind of lucky, but not really at this point), there is the vacuum created by all of the oxygen in the air suddenly exploding. You suffocate on top of everything else.

As if all that were not enough, thermobarics excel in confined spaces, like underground bunkers, because the explodo-mist can seep into vents, doorways and you know, like pockets and stuff, then detonating all of that in an instant.

Okay, that chapter is done, but don’t worry, you didn’t just sit through that for nothing, the nukes were back story. You’ll have to wait and see what happens with the others.

1 comment:

  1. Sir,

    You should adapt this information into a Cracked article on the horrors of advanced weaponry. The writing is solid, and the similes/metaphors make it relatable to just about anyone.