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Nuclear Blowhard
Old 11-30-2008, 12:10 PM   #1
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Nuclear Blowhard

Some other boards purport to be scientific, but are actually overwhelmingly full of new-age guru’s, those full or rhetoric or other mean-spirited bottom feeders. I’d posted on these boards, challenging members to actually perform & report experiments, rather than just state untested (often untestable) opinions, and stop fooling around with sophistry and the verbal tricks used by know-it-all blowhards. The scientific method is simple to state, but hard to put into practice – and sometimes yields surprising results.

Quoting extensively from William Gurstelle’s 2001 book, Backyard Ballistics, pages 157-162, I offer up these facts and a tale:

“On occasion, a discovery is made through a lucky accident … but more often the scientist must carefully develop a procedure to test the validity of a theory or idea. The way scientists go about proving or disproving an idea is called the ‘scientific method.’ There are four parts to the scientific method that are always incorporated into a scientific investigation – hypothesis, procedure, data collection and conclusion.”

“Hypothesis: This is a statement that describes how a variable will affect an event. It’s important that your hypothesis be very clear so you can test it.” For instance, in order to achieve the greatest distance, I will place a cannon at a 45 degree angle from the ground. Simple and concise.

“Procedure: This section should describe what you plan to do during your experiment. List all the materials you will need. Then list each task you will need to do, in order. Number each task. Write down everything you will do. Other scientists should be able to repeat your experiment by reading your procedure.” For the potato cannon hypothesis, you’d need potatoes, the cannon, hairspray, a protractor, a marker for recording distances and a clipboard. Being able to read, write, and calculate would help.

“Data Collection: You should write down your observations. [These are not unsupported opinions and pronouncements.] These are the data. You may want to organize your data into a table format to make it easier to record and analyze.” For the potato cannon, try several firings at angles of, say, 35, 45, 55, and 65 degrees. After firing several spuds under the same conditions, take note of the distances the spuds cover.

“Conclusion: Look carefully at your data, and decide what it tells you about your hypothesis. Does the data [and not your rant & bombast] support your hypothesis? You can graph the table of your results … you may also decide to communicate your results in an article to others, which is how scientists let others know of their work.” Patents can certainly be acquired within this process, and business conducted, too. Careers can be advanced, as well. Just so long as the four basic strategies are followed both in letter and in spirit.

And now, the tale—again, quoting from Mr. Gurstelle’s excellent book:

“In 1955, a group of scientists and engineers at Loa Alamos National Laboratories were given the task or reducing the amount of radioactive expelled into the atmosphere from nuclear testing. Astrophysicist Robert Brownlee was a principal participant in these tests, named Project Bernalillo, after a New Mexico county near Los Alamos .”

“Dr. Brownlee and his team were testing the feasibility of moving nuclear testing underground. In order to achieve a number of scientific objectives, they needed to explode several nuclear devices underground. To do so involved building the equivalent of a giant, atomic-powered potato cannon. The cannon was a 400-foot-deep well, lined with thick steel pipe, capped with a steel plate instead of a potato, and powered by a nuclear bomb instead of a squirt of hairspray.”

“Forty storys below the scrubby tangle of mesquite trees and creosote on the desert surface, researchers tried to determine if they could safely test the effects and design of nuclear devices while reducing the release of radioactive materials.”

“The Bernalillo team placed a small (by high-energy physics standards) nuclear device in the steel well and capped the well off with a big steel manhole cover. The four-foot diameter steel manhole cover was four inches thick and weighed in the neighborhood of half a ton.”

“This puny nuclear device had the explosive equivalent of less that one kiloton of high explosive. However, small in nuclear terms is still incredibly large. The effects of letting lots and lots of nuclear energy loose are sometimes hard to predict. To understand what happened when the device was triggered, the Los Alamos team utilized the scientific method. They started with a hypothesis and then assembled an array of stat-of-the-art measuring equipment to test it (as of 1955, remember).”

“The scientists working on the Bernalillo series of test shots were trying to figure out what happens during the first micro-moments of the nuclear explosion. The Los Alamos team wanted to know what kind of nuclear particles were emitted, how many there were, and—most importantly—where they went. The data they needed to collect had to be measured in the first few shakes after the explosion begins. (A ‘shake’ is the amount of time it takes light to travel 10 feet. Since light travels 186,000 miles per second, that makes a ‘shake’ an exceedingly short time interval.)”

“The scientists put all sorts of detectors and sensors in and near the well. They also placed high-speed cameras some distance from the top of the well to film the explosion. Normal cameras take about 16 frames of film every second. The high-speed Los Alamos cameras were 10 times faster (again, remember, this was 1955).”

“When the device was triggered, the scientists got a bit more than they bargained for. The bomb emitted high-energy particles or light, called photons. Within a few shakes, the photons—or in Los Alamos lingo, the ‘shine’—bombarded the steel pipe, vaporizing it into superheated iron gas. About three-hundredths of a second after detonation, the shock wave of gas, light and radiation blasted against the steel cover plate at the top of the well.”

“The high-speed camera recorded the blast effect on the plate. In one frame the plate is there. In the very next frame, 1/160th of a second later, it is gone. Where did the four-foot diameter, heifer-sized steel plate go? The area was searched carefully, but the plate wasn’t found. In fact, in the 40-plus years since project Bernalillo, no trace of the plate has been found, anywhere.”

“… Brownlee performed some preliminary calculations. Based on the expected bomb yield, the shape and depth of the test hole, and so forth, he figured the initial velocity of the plate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 41 miles per second.”

“… In 1687, Isaac Newton figured out some interesting things about gravity and velocity. He deduced that there is one particular speed, one where you can throw something hard enough and fast enough, you can make it through the gravitational attraction of the Earth
and break free into outer space. Newton called this speed ‘escape velocity,’ and on Earth this is calculated to be just a hair less than seven miles a second. When the Bernalillo team calculated the plate’s velocity just after detonation, they estimated it was in the rough neighborhood of five times escape velocity!”

“A few years later, in 1959, a team of Soviet scientists launched what they claimed to be the first man-made object into outer space, the satellite Sputnick. Many people at Los Alamos think Sputnick was merely the second object to travel to outer space—preceded by a full two years by an American-made manhole cover!

And with that, I’ll close.

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Old 11-30-2008, 01:23 PM   #2
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. . . Now, that's some fun. "Here hold my beer while I light this . . ."

I wonder if the plate would really even be a plate? Assuming there was a clear path from the bomb to the plate, from nearly the instant that the chain reaction ruptured the bomb casing, the plate would be subjected to all wavelength and kinds of intense radiation. This would travel at the speed of light, and would start heating the plate almost instantly. Meanwhile, the shock wave of overpressure would be traveling much slower, at the speed of sound (roughly 1100 fps under standard temp and pressure, but a lot faster than this as the molecules of air in the shaft heated up). Still, for a good "long" time (maybe 1/10th of a second?), that thick plate just sat there getting hot. I wonder if it didn't vaporize, liquify, or at least soften up before the blast wave hit. Softening could lead to a self-forming projectile with much better aerodynamics than a plate--maybe the thang really did achieve escape velocity.

Of course, all of the conjecture above is the unprovable claptrap you were railing against!

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Old 11-30-2008, 02:32 PM   #3
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Old 12-09-2008, 03:01 PM   #4
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The often entertaining strange horizons has a lot more information about the manhole cover in space. It appears to be mostly urban legend but possible.

Of more interest to me was the claim the V2 Rocket is actually the first man made object in space.
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Old 12-09-2008, 05:02 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by ScooterGuy View Post
And with that, I’ll close.
I think the items missing in the proof/discussion/? are:

1. Definition of what is defining where does "Space" begin i.e. distance from sea level - Is it 62 miles?
Space Today Online - chart of altitudes of some objects

2. Manhole cover - did it remain together or did it vaporize in flight before reaching "Space" ?

3. Manhole cover - did it break up or become warped in a way that did not put it on a trajectory for "Space"

Since there was no measurement or recorded observation that the manhole made it into "Space" we do not know that it was the first man made object that made it into "Space".

“… Brownlee performed some preliminary calculations. Based on the expected bomb yield, the shape and depth of the test hole, and so forth, he figured the initial velocity of the plate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 41 miles per second.”

Couldn't the above also infer that the manhole cover (manhole cover iron? meteor iron) vaporized as do most meteors that travel through the earth's atmosphere at similar speeds as the above estimate?

meteor: Definition from
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Old 12-09-2008, 06:30 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by donheff View Post
I'm with you on this one donheff...
No one agrees with other people's opinions; they merely agree with their own opinions -- expressed by somebody else. Sydney Tremayne
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Old 12-09-2008, 06:39 PM   #7
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Let me add this - light snow flurries north of Kansas City.

heh heh heh - I think by next year I'll finally have been fully rehabilitated from reinvesting DRIP plans out to the fourth decimal place - I hope. Down to 13 in the corner of one file cabinet.


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