Update: NUKEMAP has had well over a million “detonations” since it was first made public. I’m both agog and aghast. Click here for a FAQ of sorts.
This Friday, instead of giving you an image like I normally do, I’m giving you a little application to make your own images.
So over the last few days, I put together my own nuclear effects calculator, which I am calling NUKEMAP, only because “Alex’s Nuclear Effects Calculator” was deemed by a colleague as “unsexy.”
What makes this one so great? Check out these features:
- Easily draggable target marker (which has an adorable little atom on it)!
- Bright, stomach-churning colors indicating major negative effects of atomic detonations!
- Effects described include zones of 500 rem exposure, major overpressures, and fire! Plus, the legend breaks these down into easy-to-understand descriptions of what they mean for your average person caught inside of them.
- Lots of pre-sets for both places to drop them (I didn’t want to discriminate) and yields of historical weapons! It has never been easier to put a 50Mt H-bomb on the Eiffel Tower.
- Automatically tries to drop the bomb on wherever Google thinks you are accessing the Internet from (based on your IP address)!
- You can link to specific detonations and send them to your friends to enjoy forever!
- Automatic zooming to make sure that all of a given nuke’s effects fit within the view window! (This can be disabled.)
- More historically contextualized than your average web app!
I have in the past made maps of this sort for use in teaching, when I want to emphasize how “impressive” the first hydrogen bomb was when compared to the first atomic bombs. If you dropped a Fat Man-style bomb onto downtown Boston, the results wouldn’t be pretty, but the effects would be limited to the immediate area surrounding the peninsula, primarily. (In other words, I would tell the students, Harvard is probably not too bad off, fallout excepting, but MIT is completely fried.) Do the same thing with an Ivy Mike-sized bomb and you’ve set houses on fire all the way out to Concord (a visual argument, when done with appropriate build-up and theatricality, that never failed to result in a horrified gasp from the auditorium of undergrads). It becomes quite clear why many of the atomic scientists of the day considered H-bombs to be exclusively genocidal weapons.
Of course, all such mappers fail to take into account terrain and building differences. Someday, I have no doubt, the Google Maps API will evolve to a level where that will be possible, but not today. It would also be wonderful to have it automatically guess as to the level of megadeaths (which wouldn’t be to hard if you could automatically find population sizes within a given circle radius) but this also is not something easily done with Google Maps (though again, someday I bet it will be possible). It also doesn’t do anything to gauge fallout — this is in part because calculating fallout paths is hard if you are not just being hand-wavy about it, and that even being hand-wavy about it is hard to depict in Google Maps because it doesn’t natively support drawing ellipses as opposed to circles. But there are work-arounds to this, and maybe someday this mapper will support basic fallout trajectories.
Technical credit and caveat: the scaling equations are all adapted from the wonderful Nuclear Weapons FAQ by Carey Sublette. They are approximate scaling equations and they assume optimum burst height. So they are not going to be perfect for estimating ground bursts, and they are probably a little hand-wavy when you talk about bombs at the margins (very tiny or very huge yields).
NUKEMAP should be more or less compatible with any browsers that support the latest Google Maps API (v.3).
Wish this did something that it doesn’t? Let me know. I’m all ears for good suggestions and I find this stuff more fun than is probably healthy.
And maybe you do, too. As one of my AIP colleagues wrote to me: “It’s weird to say that it’s fun… but I just blew up Chicago!”
- The two most prominent via Google are one written in Java at FAS and one called the HYDESim which only shows overpressures. There is also this one that does thermal damage only. And this one from Graham Allison that I wasn’t aware of until after writing NUKEMAP. And this one which also does thermal effects. [↩]