Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Atomic Beauty

Photo by DasWortgewand
Call me weird (go ahead; I'm used to it) but I've always been fascinated by nuclear explosions. I just love to watch old government films of atomic tests back in the 40s, 50s and 60s. To me they're beautiful and hypnotic.

Don't get me wrong though: I am very aware that nuclear bombs are terrible weapons, and what Little Boy and Fat Man -- the first two atomic bombs -- did to the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific. I grew up during the Cold War when the US and USSR had thousands of missiles tipped with H-Bombs pointed at each other. That knowledge was the background music of my childhood. It was an accepted fact of life. I won't say I walked around paranoid all the time, but I did pay attention to where the fallout shelters were.

But that's not what I'm writing about. The thing I'm fascinated by is the aesthetic quality of atom bombs. The instantaneous way a gold and white mushroom cloud appears seemingly out of no where, the shapes and textures and colors of those clouds as they rise through the air, shockwaves speeding across the desert toward the camera, the effects they have on old, decommissioned ships tethered around the fiery column or mannequins and houses stationed in the sandy plains of Nevada -- that's what mesmerizes me.

Yeah, I know. Weird. But then, they are some of the most-watched videos on YouTube. Maybe I'm just not afraid to admit my weirdness?

At any rate, physicists and film experts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been busily digitizing and declassifying thousands of these films, many of which the regular public has never seen. One of my favorite YouTube channels, Dark5, has set five of the most unseen to evocative music that, I think, points up the oddly compelling beauty of weapons that could destroy us all.

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