With the onset of the Cold War, the United States and Russia decided it would be a good idea to start a gigantic pissing match to see who could build the biggest nuclear phallic symbol. This contest peaked in the early 1960s, just before the public finally said, "Jesus, guys! You wanna maybe calm down with the radiation-spewing explosions for a minute?" By that time, both countries had achieved astounding and stupidly dangerous results.
America's test series was code-named Operation Castle, and is the source of most nuclear blast footage and photography that we have. The pinnacle of the series was an explosion designated Castle Bravo. Detonated at Bikini Atoll in 1954, Castle Bravo produced a 15 megaton explosion. That's the equivalent of 15 million tons of TNT. This blast was, in fact, much bigger than anticipated, and the fallout gave thousands of nearby residents radiation sickness.
|Oh. Our bad.|
The Soviet Union, not to be outdone, developed Tsar Bomba. Tsar Bomba, or "Emperor Bomb," is the single most powerful device ever developed by humanity. It was detonated at a remote location in the Arctic Circle in 1961, and resulted in a mind-blowing 50 megaton explosion, more than three times as powerful as the largest U.S. nuclear test. When it was dropped, the explosive fireball measured five miles in diameter, and very nearly engulfed the bomber that had dropped the payload.
Even more impressive was the mushroom cloud, which reached a peak height of about thirty-five goddamn miles. To give you a sense of scale, Mount Everest, the highest point on the entire planet, is a comparatively paltry five and a half miles above sea level. Tsar Bomba's mushroom cloud was over six times higher than Mount freaking Everest. Just let that sink in. The gravity of that fact. We, as a species, created an instrument of destruction that utterly dwarfed the highest mountain on the planet.