The Radioactive Lake of Kazakhstan

By Anupum Pant

If you haven’t heard about the operation Plowshare, it was a US operation focused at developing techniques that would help them utilize the massive power of nuclear weapons for peaceful construction purposes. Now if that sounds dumb, remember, it was the year 1961 when they thought of trying it out. Look back at other things from that time and you’ll realize how dumb those times were. Maybe the next generation will say the same for the year 2014.

How would someone use nuclear weapons for construction, you ask? If you think about it, using it to make huge holes in the ground, blasting rocks for mining seems like a good idea at first. How quick it would be, right? No.

After 27 such experimental blasts, the researchers from US learnt that this wasn’t a very wise thing to do, even if it seemed like a good idea. However, they ended up inspiring the Soviets.

While US had learnt about the ill effects of it and had stopped the operation by the year 1977, Soviets made their own version called “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy” and continued doing it till the year 1989. 156 such tests were done by them.

Among all of them, one was done at the edge of a test site in Kazakhstan. In the year 1965, a 140 kiloton device was placed at about 180 meters below the surface, and detonated. As a result, a 400 meter wide and 100 meter deep hole was created in the ground.

This hole was planed to be a reservoir for an overflowing river nearby and it eventually got filled with water. A lake was formed. It has since been known as lake Chagan.

Lake Chagan contains water that remains radioactive till date. Even today the lake has “100 times more than the permitted level of radionuclides in drinking water“. Only at a distance of about 100 to 150 meters from the lake the radioactivity levels are at a background level.

Here is the video of the test that created this radioactive lake. The audio is in some other language, so you might have to do with just the video…

via [AmusingPlanet]

First Man-made Object in Space – A Manhole Cover?

By Anupum Pant

Edit: The first man-made object to cross the boundary of space (100 km above the sea level, or the karman line) a Nazi German V2 rocket on October 3, 1942. – As mentioned by Scott and Adolf in the comments.


Odd, I know. Teachers would say Sputnik was the first ever man-made object to orbit earth, but there is a slight possibility that Sputnik might not have been it – it could have been a humble manhole cover (not so humble, read on).

Back in the year 1956 (or summer of 1957, but definitely before the launch of Sputnik which happened on 4th October 1957), scientists at Los Alamos were learning to contain a nuclear explosion. To find out, they decided to do a much much larger version of the fire-cracker-in-a-can trick…
I’m not sure if they were doing it out of a desire to loft objects in space using a novel nuclear bomb propulsion, or it was something else, it sure was madness.

The mad experiment

In a 500 feet long and 4 feet wide vertical cylindrical tunnel, they put a nuclear bomb. The top of this tunnel was sealed using a 4 inch thick man hole cover (on steroids). The lid weighed about 2 tons! They were sure that even the 2 ton lid would blow off like feather due to the nuclear explosion. However, they weren’t sure on exactly how fast it’d travel up. To measure the speed, high-speed cameras were placed near the opening.

The bomb was detonated. Some say that the high speed cameras were only able to capture the image of the lid in a single frame. Which by the way could also contribute to an enormous error margin in the speed calculation. Nevertheless, the speed was of the lid at which it flew up in the air was calculated to be 41 miles per second – approximately 6 times the escape velocity! Never before had any man made objects moved at that speed inside the earth’s atmosphere. The lid went. It was never seen again. No one knows where it is now.

It’s highly likely that the lid was burned up and never reached Space. Or, may be it did reach some place and then dropped back. Again, must have got burnt during re-entry. Nothing can be said for sure.

Another thing that could have happened is that the lid went on and started orbiting the earth – highly unlikely, still. It’s probably still floating up there. And if things weren’t worse already, think of this – the first man-made object ever to orbit the earth was a manhole cover? Or, the fastest man-made object ever to travel inside the earth’s atmosphere was a manhole lid? Damn!

[Source 1] [Source 2]

A Natural Explosion That Knocked 80 Million Trees

By Anupum Pant

In the year 1908 (June 30), a remote part of Siberia experienced something really mysterious and really huge. It was an explosion that took place at about 5-10 km altitude in the air which was estimated to be as powerful as 1000 (or 185 according to NASA) Hiroshima bombs!

No one could ever figure out what really caused it. However, scientists were pretty sure that it was either a huge meteorite of about 100 feet (some say 1000 m) in diameter which crashed into the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated, or it just bounced off the earth’s atmosphere like a huge skipping stone. Besides the scientific theories, there are a number of other “UFO and alien” stories that have been associated with this event. This was called the Tunguska event.

The sheer size: The explosion was utterly gigantic. So big, that it is still considered to be the most powerful natural explosion in the known history. The shock-waves from the explosion knocked people off their feet, and these people were 40 miles away from where the explosion happened. It wasn’t just people, 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 square kilometres were knocked down in a radial pattern (with trunks pointing away from the epicentre). 80 million! Wow!

It caused a mini earthquake and a NatGeo article says that the lake Checko could have been created due to this impact.

Eyewitness’ account:

Suddenly in the north sky… the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire… At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash… The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or of guns firing. The earth trembled.
[NASA website]

Had this taken place above a metro city, the city would have been completely levelled by the event. But that is highly unlikely because cities take up a very small fraction of area on the earth’s surface. Moreover, very rarely do such events happen.

What is very likely is that such an event could happen over the part which covers 70% of the earth’s surface – the ocean. Such an event could create a huge Tsunami causing a lot of destruction on land.