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Alex Wellerstein

Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science at the American Institute of Physics, has shared a unique video of a blast during America’s testing of nukes in the Yucca Mountain area of Nevada during the 1950s.

The historian was sent the video below from a Russian colleague, and has now shared it on his blog.

Alex Wellerstein wrote: “Most films of nuclear explosions are dubbed. If they do contain an actual audio recording of the test blast itself (something I’m often suspicious of – I suspect many were filmed silently and have a stock blast sound effect), it’s almost always shifted in time so that the explosion and the sound of the blast wave are simultaneous.

“This is, of course, quite false: the speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound, and the cameras are kept a very healthy distance from the test itself, so in reality the blast wave comes half a minute or so after the explosion. Basic physics that even a non-technical guy like me can understand.

“It’s rare to find footage where the sound has not been monkeyed with in post-processing. So I was pleased when a Russian correspondent sent me a link to footage digitized by the National Archives of a 1953 nuclear test. The footage is very raw: it hasn’t been edited much, and is a bit washed out, but the audio is still in <<correct>>, original sync.”

Atom blast at Yucca Flat, Nevada, March 17, 1953

Atom blast at Yucca Flat, Nevada, March 17, 1953

Civilians were allowed to watch this blast from 11 miles away, partly an attempt by the government to allay public fears about the dangers of nuclear fallout.

Alex Wellerstein adds: “The audio is what makes this great. Put on some headphones and listen to it all the way through – it’s much more intimate than any other test film I’ve seen. Troops were also on hand, and they can be heard shouting <<Whoa>> and <<Jeez!>> at the end of the video.

“You get a much better sense of what these things must have been like, on the ground, as an observer, than from your standard montage of blasts.

“Murmurs in anticipation; the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally – a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.

“There were U.S. troops there as well, as part of Operation Desert Rock V. They provide a huge amount of ambient noise.”

 [youtube U_nLNcEbIC8]