The Star Killer

Gold is known as the King of Metals  owing to its intrinsic value due to the relative scarcity and that shiny hue. But the aam aadmi of the Metal family better known as Iron, has a very interesting story from its formation to its availability for our usage. First thing I’d do to Iron would be to rechristen it, giving it the cool name of “Star Killer”, the story behind the title shall follow.

 

 

 

 

 

The story for the day starts with Hydrogen being the only element present in the universe and the universe still being a hot burner, what with big bang just a few million years past. About 200-500 million years after the big bang (which happened 13.7 billion years ago), the universe got its first production plants. The 1st generation of stars which came into being around that time comprising majorly of Hydrogen with only a few traces, if any, of other elements. The stars, under the force of gravity and the heat around started the first constructive process in the universe. Hydrogen atoms under the intense pressure undergo the process known as “Nuclear Fusion” to form the Helium atoms, the 2nd heaviest element in the universe. The process keeps moving forward, smashing the proton particles against the existing elements to form newer elements, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen and so on. These factories  were working very well and the universe was slowly being introduced to newer elements with increasing atomic numbers.

 

Then, the inevitable happened, a Manganese atom bombarded by another of those free-flowing Hydrogen atoms would have produced the newest kid on the block, our very own Iron. This is, where the story changes. Iron, being a heavy element went out-of-bounds for the Star system, the nuclear fusion process didn’t have enough energy to break the Iron chains. The creation of first Iron atom in a star system is the beginning of its end. Slowly the star, having consumed all its fuel in the form of Hydrogen and left only with the heavy elements died its own death. The manner of settling of the dead bodies in stars, unlike humans, is based on size. Thus the largest become Supernova, some become neutron stars, some become red giants. The red super giants was the last stage of most of the stars at that time. The red supergiants crumbled under the gravitational force and scattered off the heavier elements in violent gushes, spreading them far and wide, making up the source for the iron used by humans 13 billion years later.
Thus, almost every piece of our very common Iron, which we use in our daily life, was formed about 13 billion years ago, long before the Earth, the Sun and the Moon could even be conceived of. And not only the antiquity of Iron, but the most interesting thing about Iron is, it defines the natural boundaries of a star. No heavier element is ever produced in the course of the natural production activity of the universe and its arrival sounds the death knell of its founding star. No wonder, the star killer has had such utility in human lives.

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Tsar Bomba

Exploring, and then shattering the known horizons has been the biggest passion of the most entrepreneurial of humans. It is this unending drive that has taken human civilisation to the insurmountable heights. But, there come times in the advance of human civilisation that the logic finally overcomes the blinding passion and makes humans to think, pause and wait. There are two such interesting examples, while one concerns biking, other is about “the single most physically powerful device ever deployed by mankind”.

Tsar Bomba, a Hydrogen Bomb tested on 30th October 1961 by the erstwhile USSR at the peak of their powers and the peak of the Cold War, remains the most powerful detonation achieved by human society. The scale of power generated by the single event was awe-inspiringly obnoxious. Power delivered by such atomic, nuclear bombs is measured in Kilotons/Megatons of TNT equivalent. The blast yield of Tsar Bomba was 57MT TNT, just for comparison, the strongest such weapon tested by US was 15 MT. The Tsar was 3800 times more powerful than Little Boy, the bomb dropped at Hiroshima which was measured 15 KT TNT. While the Pokhran tests in 1998 by India had a max yield of 43-45 KT still 1/1300th times the power of TSAR, a feat achieved 37 years later.

To get an idea of the conventional power of the TSAR, the energy released by that one single explosion in Oct 1961 was 10 times the combined energy of all conventional explosives used during the course of the World War II. Everything within a radius of ~35 kms was razed to ground, houses were destroyed 100s of kms, there were partially broken windows even upto 900-1000 kms from the test site. Yet, the m6ost other worldly thing about the Tsar for me, was the height of the Mushroom Cloud. Through all my studies and general awareness of Geography, anything human related, after breaching the Troposphere (the layer of atmosphere closest to earth surface) is only restricted to Stratosphere, a layer which extends upto 50 kms. But Tsar’s Mushroom cloud breached the natural barrier, extending into the Mesosphere acquiring a peak height of 65 kms, a new horizon breached by humans, something the USSR Scientists could be very proud.

Yet, here comes the interesting story. The Tsar had a maximum theoretical yield of 100 MT but after testing the 57MT mega bomb, finally the USSR scientists decided that enough was enough and a bomb any more powerful would pose severe existential crises in the form of fallout risk and escape of the carrier, thus saving our earth to an extent.

Thus, a bomb which was 10 times more powerful than the whole of World War II, still had a lot of gas remaining in the tank, thankfully for human civilisation, even the human greed can encounter some limits at times.