Starfish Prime

March 30th, 2009

Starfish Prime

On 07/09/1962, the government detonated a 1.4 megaton warhead 250 miles above Johnson Island. Dubbed Starfish Prime, the experiment released an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that fused power lines and disrupted electrical and communications systems over a 1500-mile radius.

According to observer Cecil R. Coale,

“Then a brilliant white flash erased the darkness like a photoflash. Then the entire sky turned light green for about a second. In several more seconds, a deep red aurora, several moon diameters in size, formed where the blast had been. A white plasma jet came slowly out of the top of the red aurora (over Johnston Island) and painted a white stripe across the sky from north to south in about one minute. A deep red aurora appeared over Samoa at the south end of the white plasma jet. This visual display lasted for perhaps ten minutes before slowly fading. There was no sound at all. [declassified DOD Technical Results (pdf)]”

The inner Van Allen belt was energized by the explosion, and a full third of satellites in operation at the time were disrupted, including Telstar 1, which is still in orbit but silent.

I'd love to name a band Starfish Prime, but it seems it's already taken. Good for them. I'll settle for naming a piece of music after it.

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