Pedro Fort: The unexpected Starfish Prime
With everything happening worldwide, this Sunday I feel the need to talk a little about what was the Starfish Prime.
I am referring to the misadventure (not amusing at all), of the experimental nuclear test at high altitude that is little known and widespread, but of great importance to exceed the limits of knowledge of fission and its military uses.
The stage was set. A remote island in the Pacific “uninhabited” at least by humans, the United States with “rights” over that land.
Americans are in full competition against the Soviets to develop the best weapons, the exploration of technologies and state-of-the-art resources and as always, the human eagerness to make known the unknown, preferably to generate the biggest devastation possible to be able to subdue his fellow men.
How pathetic is this to me when I see the greatness that we have as a species, when there is so much creation and expression in art, wonderful inventions and unparalleled talent, and on the other hand, the degrees of abjection that exist to try to destroy everything fabulous we have conceived!
Continuing with the main subject, Starfish Prime was the secret code of the name to carry out a nuclear detonation at high-altitude.
Let me clarify that since 1958 four high-altitude tests were carried out using missiles with nuclear warheads.
What did they expect?
They did not know what would happen?
Was there not a certitude of the result as consequence of the effects for those tests?
It was trial and error experiment and its consequences would become reality and give the answers only after the detonations.
It was 9:00:09 AM Honolulu time on July 9 1962 and it was at that moment at 400 kilometers of altitude that occurred the lethal detonation of the Starfish Prime project.
It was a Thor-type missile launched in the Pacific, specifically from Johnston Island 1445 kilometers from Hawaii.
In the night sky, a ball of white light soon became green, a product of nuclear radiation scattering.
Although the detonation lasted about 16 minutes (according to a simulation made in 2006), for 90 minutes long arms of white light were seen coming out, fired in all directions. In the final stretch of this exhibition, only one red line remained in the sky.
I cannot even imagine that show worthy of a passage from Dante’s Divine Comedy.
At that moment there was an unexpected effect of unprecedented electromagnetic pulses.
It was an explosion that went completely out of control as it exceeded the expectations of all involved.
Not even exact measurements could be obtained because some instruments became unstable and others just stopped working.
The whole result was so intense that the blast was perceived as colossal even from Hawaii.
In that moment it ceased to be something secret.
The glow made it clear that something extraordinary had happened.
Collateral damage occurred within a few minutes in the same Hawaii; the telephone lines were fulminated, a great part of the system of street lighting felt the effects and a blackout occurred.
The alarm systems of the city stopped working.
The Royal New Zealander Air Force, which was in the vicinity doing anti-submarine maneuvers, had to be assisted from the ground for its return.
A Soviet ship that was in those latitudes registered the event for the knowledge of their leaders.
Of course that was not the worst, all the radiation left wreaked havoc on the atmosphere.
Over several days after the bright flash, strange and bright auroras appeared, the particles took at least 5 years to dissipate, and the nuclear contamination that fell to the ocean contaminating the waters did not stop and measurements or data could not be collected to obtain an approximate damage.
It is only assumed that a belt of particles was trapped in the atmosphere without knowing if it disappeared completely.
All this happened in 1962.
I believe that even now, there is no sufficient imagination for us ordinary mortals to realize the real scope of this experiment today.
What has been built since then that we do not know about?
Or how does this knowledge been applied?
I hope if they use it in a war, we never get to find out.
In the meantime, I only wish that after the weekend follows a Monday again.