Nuclear Weapons in Space

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watch_wait_plot
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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby watch_wait_plot » Tue Jun 24, 2008 2:03 am UTC

The Federation of American Scientists has a site devoted to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.
The page on EMP from a nuke is here: http://www.fas.org/nuke/intro/nuke/emp.htm

A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. These electrons are then trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. This current is asymmetric in general and gives rise to a rapidly rising radiated electromagnetic field called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Because the electrons are trapped essentially simultaneously, a very large electromagnetic source radiates coherently.


The first paragraph seems to indicate definitively that EMP is not an inherent effect of a nuclear weapon. Though you might get such an effect if a suitable medium was present...such as a nearby planet. (With an atmosphere of some kind and a magnetic field...)

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby SpitValve » Tue Jun 24, 2008 11:49 am UTC

Vieto wrote:Well, the electromagnetic pulse would take out any satellite/space station in the vicinity, so you can see the chaos it could potentially cause.


We covered this already...

I don't think a nearby planet would really work - the EMP has a range of 100s of km, which is a pretty close orbit. Also, the nuke has to actually be exploded in the correct layer of the planet's atmosphere to have an effect.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby watch_wait_plot » Tue Jun 24, 2008 12:27 pm UTC

Starfish Prime was 400km above the surface...

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby SpitValve » Tue Jun 24, 2008 1:57 pm UTC

watch_wait_plot wrote:Starfish Prime was 400km above the surface...


I looked that up on wikipedia and it's very interesting. It looks like it involved beta decay electrons getting trapped in Earth's magnetic field, which is a different effect to the EMP. And apparently it was a "low earth orbit" satellites that were damaged. But still, it seems like quite a long range effect for quite far up.

ooh, here's a good graph of explosion height versus peak electric field versus megatonnage.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby ikrase » Tue Jun 24, 2008 4:26 pm UTC

We ALREADY have sent nukes in space. SEVERAL. THey killed a LOT of sattelites by EMP and XRAYS.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby watch_wait_plot » Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:07 pm UTC

SpitValve wrote:I looked that up on wikipedia and it's very interesting. It looks like it involved beta decay electrons getting trapped in Earth's magnetic field, which is a different effect to the EMP. And apparently it was a "low earth orbit" satellites that were damaged. But still, it seems like quite a long range effect for quite far up.


But it isn't. EMP itself is derived from electrons generated by Compton scattering getting trapped in the Earth's magnetic field. A nuclear weapon detonated on the surface can still cause this effect, since it's gamma ray pulse still reaches the optimal altitude for the effect to occur, but it should be obvious why high altitude detonation is ideal.

That's what we generally refer to as EMP.
There's also the broadband radiation pulse from the nuke...but a structure build to survive interstellar radiation is unlikely to have it's electronics affected by that. If it was, the ship itself would probably be disintegrating anyway...so a dead computer would be the least of their worries.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Jun 24, 2008 5:47 pm UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:Also, wouldn't xrays be blocked by satellites' metallic shells?


I think x-rays would be absorbed by the metal of satellites, and would probably convert to heat. Energy in a lot of forms will come flying out of the weapon. When it encounters a body, it will either be reflected, transmitted through, or, more likely, absorbed by the body.

When air absorbs this energy, it reaches extreme temperature and pressure. When a metal body absorbs enough of this energy, it will be melted to slag.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby hideki101 » Tue Jun 24, 2008 8:00 pm UTC

watch_wait_plot wrote:But it isn't. EMP itself is derived from electrons generated by Compton scattering getting trapped in the Earth's magnetic field. A nuclear weapon detonated on the surface can still cause this effect, since it's gamma ray pulse still reaches the optimal altitude for the effect to occur, but it should be obvious why high altitude detonation is ideal.

So the Goldeneye is plausible?
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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby watch_wait_plot » Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:37 am UTC

So the Goldeneye is plausible?

More than plausible. It's been done, or at least tested. Although as far as I know that type of weapon system was not and is not deployed. It's actually against a treaty or two, so I doubt such a system exists now. Although since the USSR technically no longer exists...and the strongest responce we would get from the UN is a stern frown...there is really very little in the way of going ahead with one.
The problem with a system like this is that it does not discriminate. It will kill everyone's electronics, everyone's sattilites including those of the attacker. It is the sort of system you do not use unless you absolutely must, and really I think nuclear groundstrikes would be more useful in most senarios where a "Goldeneye" could come into play.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Minerva » Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:45 am UTC

A "Goldeneye" weapon, that is a weapon that specifically creates a directed EMP, probably doesn't exist, and certainly hasn't been tested.

EMPs have been observed as the byproduct of atmospheric nuclear detonations, especially high altitude ones, but they aren't directed in any way like Goldeneye.
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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby watch_wait_plot » Wed Jun 25, 2008 4:52 am UTC

From my understanding of the movie (Thank you for giving me an excuse to watch it again later. :) ) the "Goldeneye" weapon was a low yield nuke detonated in Low Earth Orbit. That's why the devices could only be fired once (two sattilites).

That's it. Exactly what we've been discussing this whole time. They may have been at too high an altitude for the correct principles to function, but it's Hollywood here. They got the basic idea at least.

Now I will watch the movie and find out if I am totally wrong.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Mr_Rose » Wed Jun 25, 2008 9:30 am UTC

Minerva wrote:A "Goldeneye" weapon, that is a weapon that specifically creates a directed EMP, probably doesn't exist, and certainly hasn't been tested.

EMPs have been observed as the byproduct of atmospheric nuclear detonations, especially high altitude ones, but they aren't directed in any way like Goldeneye.

As watch_wait_plot said, the Goldeneye satellites were simple nukes designed to detonate high up over a target continent. They were hardly "directed" seeing as the entire purpose of the ruse to capture the last one was so that it could be used to wipe out the financial records of continental Europe, covering up the theft of several hundred billion dollars.
The one that detonated over the base in Siberia didn't do much besides destroy the base because, well, Siberia. Trees and ice don't operate on electricity much these days. Not even in Soviet Russia.
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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Minerva » Wed Jun 25, 2008 10:44 am UTC

It's been a while since I watched it, and I don't own a copy, unfortunately.

How did the EMP actually manage to destroy the facility at Severnaya Zemlya?

Of course, even a fully potent EMP won't destroy the vast majority of computer data held on magnetic media.
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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby ian » Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:01 am UTC

Minerva wrote:How did the EMP actually manage to destroy the facility at Severnaya Zemlya?


FILMSCIENCE!

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Starside » Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:12 am UTC

I do not know how large it would be, but I could see a nuke having an intrinsic emp of sorts. The blast would create a fair amount of high velocity charges particles which would be a current and induce a magnetic field. I dont know how strong it would be though. I am sure conventional explosions also accelerate ions.

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Re: Nuclear Weapons in Space

Postby Mr_Rose » Wed Jun 25, 2008 11:33 am UTC

Minerva wrote:It's been a while since I watched it, and I don't own a copy, unfortunately.

How did the EMP actually manage to destroy the facility at Severnaya Zemlya?

Of course, even a fully potent EMP won't destroy the vast majority of computer data held on magnetic media.

combination of the satellite being detonated lower than usual to restrict the radius of the pulse and everything even slightly electronic in the building catching on fire, mostly, including the hydraulic motors that aligned the dish, causing it to fall over. Given that his was a large metal dish, things underneath got squished.
Whether that's realistic or not is another question...
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