Explosions are the staple of any action movie. For directors like Michael Bay, they can come to be a trademark. Occasionally, reality can be more ‘explosive’ than any work of fiction. Today we’ll take a look at some of those incredibly powerful and destructive incidents. Focusing on explosions that have happened within recorded history, we will explore the largest nuclear, non-nuclear and natural explosions ever witnessed by man.
Largest Nuclear Explosion
The largest nuclear explosion was the great ‘Tsar Bomba’. The bomb was tested on October 30, 1961, in Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Arctic Sea. Originally planned to be 100 megatons, it was actually scaled down to 50 megatons due to technical problems with detonation and due to concerns with fallout.
The explosion was equal to 1,400 times the combined power of the two atomic bombs used in WW2. It would have caused 3rd degree burns 62 miles away and the mushroom cloud was 7 times higher than Mount Everest. The explosion could be seen and felt in Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth. The bomb weighed a whopping 27 tons. Which means it’s to impractical to use in any war capacity.
On 3 July 1969, the N1 rocket that the Soviet Union had been working on to send Russian cosmonauts to the moon exploded on the launch pad. The rocket had so much fuel (1,496,000 lbs) that the energy release was around 29 TJ.
That’s close in destructive power to the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Fun Fact: All engines on the N1 had freon fire extinguishers.
By far, the largest and largest natural explosion in recorded history was the 1815 Mount Tambora Volcanic eruption. It’s blast was equivalent to 800 megatons of TNT. 4 times more energy than Krakatoa.
Compare that to the largest nuclear explosion which was a meager 50 megatons and you can see just how big this blast was. It was so loud, it could be heard over 1600 miles away. That’s the distance from New York to Denver. It sent so much ash into the atmosphere, that the next year was called ‘The year without a summer‘. The blast killed 71,000 people living on the various islands nearby.
Stothers, Richard B. (1984). “The Great Tambora Eruption in 1815 and Its Aftermath”.
Williams, David (6 January), Tentatively Identified Missions and Launch Failures, NASA (2013)
Yuri Smirnov (Fall 1994). “Moscow’s Biggest Bomb: the 50-Megaton Test of October 1961”