Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: Date with (incan)destiny

What's the largest explosion ever known to have occurred on July 16 -- a date that has seen two other mind-boggling fireballs already, the detonation of the first atomic bomb and the launch of Apollo 11?

In the United States, it's July 4, or Independence Day. In France, it's July 14, or Bastille Day. In Britain, it's November 5, or Guy Fawkes Night. In Canada, it's Victoria Day; in Australia, it's the Queen's Official Birthday -- both of which vary in exact dates. And for a whole host of countries, it's New Year's Eve. We speak, of course, of the national holidays commemorated by blowing up a whole bunch of stuff... er, igniting fireworks.

That said, for students of explosive history, the far superior International Scientifically Significant Explosions Day (a holiday I just made up) should rightfully take place on July 16. That's because no less than three historically important, scientifically significant, and flat-out gigantic explosions have occurred on this date.

Let's start with the least destructive of the three. Our history lesson begins on July 16, 1969 on tiny Merritt Island, just off the Atlantic coast of central Florida. The explosion lasted roughly 20 minutes and produced enough force to catapult about 130 tons of mass into orbit. Coincidentally, that's exactly what happened, as we're speaking of the Saturn V rocket launch that put Apollo 11 into space and set the kinetic dominoes into motion that would have men walking on the moon four days later.

That explosion -- sustained and controlled as it was -- ranks as a mere piker compared to the July 16, 1945 detonation that vaporized a not-insignificant portion of land 30 miles southeast of Socorro, NM. This beauty of a blast let rip with 87.5 terajoules of energy, the equivalent of 20 kilotons of TNT.

Sound familiar? That's because we're speaking of the Trinity test, which set off the first atomic bomb in human history, the so-called gadget device created by the Manhattan Project.

Both of the aforementioned blowups, however, pale in comparison to the king-daddy of all July 16 fireballs -- one that burned more than four times hotter than the surface of the sun.

WHAT'S THE LARGEST EXPLOSION EVER KNOWN TO HAVE OCCURRED ON JULY 16?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

21 comments
Heggo
Heggo

Actually, one area in Au does celebrate this momentus occasion with fireworks and that is the national capitol, aka Canberra. Every year we look forward to dogs been scared $h!tless and having our mailboxes destroyed...Rule Brittania.....

MyLittleMansAnIdiot
MyLittleMansAnIdiot

...I forgot about our nations capital. The only place in Australia where it's legal to sell fireworks, hard core porn and conealable blades in a service station :p

phalacee
phalacee

As an geek residing in Australia, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the Queen's Birthday listed as the day we set off fireworks ... never in the 17 years that I've lived here in Perth has there ever been a fireworks display on the Queen's Birthday - probably because we celebrate it at a different time to the rest of Australia. (wikipedia says: "Australia (except Western Australia), observes the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June"). The biggest celebration involving fireworks here in Perth is always Australia Day - January 26. We have the Lotto Skyworks - probably the biggest Aussie Day event in the nation ... so not all of Australia celebrates with fireworks on the Queen's Birthday ...

MyLittleMansAnIdiot
MyLittleMansAnIdiot

...Queen's Birthday weekend used to include "cracker night", when the general public was allowed to set off fireworks themselves. Australia day fireworks displays, as perfomred by licensed professionals is a relatively new concept. The holidays mentioned in Jay's blog all revolve around the public providing their own fireworks displays, as apposed to the large scale commercial displays paid for by local government. If there's any quibble at all with the accuracy of Queen's Birthday being Australia's "fireworks night", it's the fact that it was made illegal to sell fireworks to the general public some time in the late 70's/early 80's, and therefore there isn't really any official "fireworks night" for Australians anymore.

counter
counter

Actually, the day in Australia that you're thinking of is "Australia Day" (such a creative name). That's the day for fireworks. I haven't heard of fireworks on the Queen's Birthday (which is actually held on the birthday of a previous and now long dead King, because we were too lazy to change it, heh).

LuckyPhil
LuckyPhil

Nup - Australia day is when councils and governments pay millions of dollars to have fireworks released by professional pyrotechnic companies. "Cracker night" used to be held on the Queen's birthday long weekend but the supply of crackers to the public was banned sometime in the late 70's leading to the demise of Cracker night. For those of us who grew up in Australia in the 60's and 70's (I'm from Melbourne) it was a great annual event.

MyLittleMansAnIdiot
MyLittleMansAnIdiot

...cracker night. Aaah, the good old days when a 7 year old could purchase small explosive devices from the local milk bar. We used to sticky tape small sky rockets to the sides of Matchbox cars and light them up.

Dave the IT Dude
Dave the IT Dude

Australia Day is January 26. The Queens Birthday changes depending on what state you live in. By memory most of Australia has it in May - however this is too close to Foundation Day in Western Australia - so we usually have it in late September. Most of Australia deems the Queen's Birthday to just be YADO (Yet Another Day Off :)

Montgomery Gator
Montgomery Gator

She has lots of birthdays it seems, depending on what part of the Commonwealth you are in.

mike.n
mike.n

Canada blows things up on 'Canada Day' NOT Victoria day. 'Canada Day' is July 1st, every single year. 'Victoria Day' is an excuse for a long-weekend, that is loosely based on the Queen Victoria's birthday, that shifts dates all the time.

renaud.larue-langlois
renaud.larue-langlois

The author apparently hasen't been in Canada much. Victoria day is nothing but a statutory holiday. It's definitely nothing anyone but a few old-time royalists celebrate. Apart from people not working, nothing special happens on that day. The big event in Canada is the Confederation day on July first. That's the one that is MUCH cebrated with fireworks all over the country and big parties and shows.

Rndmacts
Rndmacts

In Canada, while some fireworks displays are set off on Victoria Day, the largest displays are usually reserved for July 1st or Canada Day. And for those who really love the sky painting with light, in August there is the festival of Sound and Lights in Ottawa which is an invitation only display of the incendary arts and also in Montreal there is an International competition for fireworks.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I think Toronto still does it's Symphony of Fire also though I didn't confirm or track down the dates.

support
support

Just to let you know, here in Canada we celebrate the equivalent of July 4th on July 1st - Canada's birthday - with a large volume of smoke spewing, non-environmentally friendly colorful explosions (gotta love them!). There are relatively few fireworks on Victoria day. It's more viewed as day off with pay than a particularly memorial holiday - a hold over from when we were a sub-set of the British monarch. But other than that, good article, as it usually is, and the highlight of my Wednesday.

lee9w
lee9w

Hi Jay, Sorry to quibble about something as trivial as geography, but Apollo 11 did not launch from Merrit Island. Merrit Island is also not an island off the coast of Florida. It is an island between the Indian and Banana river's on Central Florida's east coast. Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral launch pad 39-A (The same pad now used by the shuttle). thank you! Lee White

bucksburg
bucksburg

"Given that Jupiter is about 4 billion years old," Sorry to quibble about something as trivial as Joviology, but there is no direct evidence that Jupiter is that old. Selenologists thought they had an idea of how old Earth's moon was, but they didn't announce it as fact until they had carefully analysed moon rocks--brought back at tremendous expense for that purpose--with the potassium-argon relative isotope dating method. No such research has been done on any jovian samples, and until then it's unscientific to describe such an age as 'given'.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

Equating the age of the moon with the age of Jupiter is a bad comparison. As we understand it all the planets formed out of the protoplanetary disk that surrounded our new born sun. The material that makes up the sun and the planets pretty much all came from the same place so when you calculate the age of any of the major solar system objects you've calculated them all. The moon is a different story since, as current theory holds, it was created when a Mars sized object collided with the Earth early in its formative years. The debris from the collision either fell back to the earth or coalesced into the moon. So the moon has an age that is younger than the rest of the solar system, but that makes it an oddity. Other moons may be similar or may have been captured asteroids, but as a captured asteroid they would probably date to the creation of the solar system like the planets do. On another point it would be difficult to bring back any samples from Jupiter or any of the other gas giants to analyze since they are made of gas. Even if you got down deep into the core you'd just find gases in a solid state, not something you can really dig up and bring home.

HavaCigar
HavaCigar

I believe both (ok all three) are the same age, give or take a day or two (ok, actually three), just much closer to 6000 years, and I have no less physical evidence for my belief than either of you do for yours.

bucksburg
bucksburg

You can believe--and even teach--whatever you want to, boomchuck, but the definition of something being 'given' is that there is no controversy surrounding it. For example: "Given that Pluto is the 9th planet in the Solar System" Nope. That may well have been a 'given' for over half a century, and some people may still believe and teach it, but due to a controversial decision by the IAU, it can?t be stated as a 'given' any more. There are several weaknesses in your line of reasoning. In the foremost of which, you state with an admirable amount of confidence that the Earth?s moon is younger than Jupiter, despite the stated age of Jupiter (?around 4 billion years?) coinciding exactly with the peer-reviewed results of K-Ar dating of lunar samples. I actually believe that the Moon and Jupiter are the same age, and have no less physical evidence for my belief than you do for yours. ?Current theory? and ?as we understand it? are shaky foundations upon which to state a ?given?. In the absence of physical evidence for the age of Jupiter, those wanting to date Jupiter in relation to the rest of the Solar system will have to content themselves with theories that are ever subject to revision or overthrow. Could I be so rash as to state that that?s a ?given?? I wouldn?t try it.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon

...as are pads 1, 2, 3, 4, 4A, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17A, 17B, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36A, 36B, 37A, 37B, 39B, 40, 41, 43, 45, 46, and 47, collectively known as "Missile Row." Only 17A, 17B, 37B, 39A, 39B, and 40 are active, though they are in the planning stages for a 39C, 39D and 39E (hello, Mars mission). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Merritt_Island_launch_sites While technically Merritt Island is distinct geographically from Cape Canaveral, all the launch pads are listed as officially on Merritt Island.

fjp
fjp

Much as I enjoyed your discussion of explosions (you could also celebrate the Big Bang on July 16th, as time didn't exist until that moment), I was (in true Geek fashion) more taken with the quibble about the trade names as nouns and adjectives. IIRC, Sony used the phrase "It's a Sony" some years ago, and if that's not a noun, I don't know what is. One could argue that 'Nano' is more of an adjective than 'iPod', given that 'nano' is a perfectly well-established numerical prefix. I doubt that even Apple's lawyers would try to prevent its further use in that context, although perhaps I shouldn't put the idea in their heads...

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