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The Largest Hydrogen Bomb Test In Human History That Literally Shook The World

Editor Picks | November 11, 2021

The hydrogen test heard around the world. (wonderfulengineering)

The Cold War between America and the Soviet Union provoked more saber-rattling than “Game Of Thrones”. During that tense period, the two mightiest countries on Earth postured for global supremacy in every conceivable way. From the space race to political maneuvering the United States and Soviets tirelessly worked for every possible advantage.

Of course, the development of their nuclear arsenals and other weapons of mass destruction became an especially consequential focal point for each side. In response to American advancements, the Soviets feverishly expanded their weapons program. Their testing of the “Tsar Bomba” in 1961 unleashed the largest nuclear explosion in the history of man.

A modified version of this Tu-95 strapped the biggest bomb in history to its underbelly and hoped for the best. (Alamy)

Soviets Playing Catch Up

After World War II and the unleashing of nuclear weapons upon Japan, the Soviets realized they stood far behind the Americans in terms of firepower. As Philip Coyle, former head of US nuclear weapons under President Clinton put it, “We were ahead and the Soviets were trying to do something to tell the world that they were to be reckoned with. Tsar Bomba was primarily designed to cause the world to sit up and take notice of the Soviet Union as an equal.”

Therefore, they rapidly began developing their own bombs. Their first test occurred in 1949, detonating “Joe-1” in a remote region of what is now Kazakhstan. Most of their advancements came from information gleaned through spying on the Americans. Nevertheless, they conducted endless tests throughout the ‘50s. In 1958 they blew up 36 nuclear bombs alone!

Tsar Bomba, the biggest bomb ever assembled, considered too powerful for tactical use. (SciencePhotoLibrary)

Creating The Tsar Bomb

Officially named Project 27000, the largest Soviet bomb ever developed was shaped very similar to “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” the US bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 15 years earlier. Unofficially it was dubbed Kuzinka Mat, which roughly translates to Kuzka’s Mother. In terms of size, it dwarfed its American counterparts, measuring 26 feet in length, 7 feet in diameter, and weighed an ungodly 27 tons.

The bomb’s incredible bulk was so large it could not fit inside the massive bomber designed specially to carry the Soviet’s collection of nuclear weapons. Instead, they were forced to strap it to the underside of a plane, not unlike a Christmas tree on top of a Honda Civic.

The region of Tsar bomb's detonation. (cruisemapper )

Nikita Khrushchev Creation

Chairman of the Soviet’s Council of Ministers, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted the world in awe over the USSR’s military prowess. Unnerving the world meant more than the lives of the pilots manning the planes for the test and whose chances of survival were calculated at 50%. To give their pilots a coin flip at survival, the bomb was outfitted with a gigantic parachute that weighed nearly 2,000 pounds!

The plan was to drop the bomb at 34,000 feet over Novaya Zemlya, a nearly uninhabited region near the Barents Sea. It would then drift to 13,000 feet before detonating. They hoped the drop would allow the two planes, one carrying the bomb and the other to film the explosion, to reach a theoretical safe distance of 30 miles away.

Going in the pilots knew they only stood a 50% of survival. (indiatimes)

The Tsar Bomb Goes Boom

At 11:32 Moscow time, the bomb went off, unleashing a fireball five miles wide, which erupted vertically due to the force of its own shockwave. The explosion was so massive the flash could be seen over 630 miles away! The ensuing mushroom cloud measured 40 miles vertically and 63 miles horizontally. 34 miles away the village of Severny was completely destroyed with no houses left standing. In the Soviet district, hundreds of miles away, the effects of the bomb caved in roofs, collapsed houses, and shattered windows. All radio communication ceased for over an hour. The pilots manning the planes survived but fell into a 1000 foot dive before gaining control.

The cameraman who witnessed the destruction described the awe-inspiring event. “The clouds beneath the aircraft and in the distance were lit up by the powerful flash. The sea of light spread under the hatch and even clouds began to glow and became transparent. At that moment, our aircraft emerged from between two cloud layers and down below in the gap a huge bright orange ball was emerging. The ball was powerful and arrogant like Jupiter. Slowly and silently it crept upwards... Having broken through the thick layer of clouds it kept growing. It seemed to suck the whole Earth into it. The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.”

Many of the world nations were up in arms over the test, mostly over potential radiation. (alamy)


According to calculations, the bomb unleashed an explosion that was 1,500 times more powerful than the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined! That meant the explosion was 10 times more powerful than all the munitions used during WWII put together. Sensors around the world recorded the bomb’s blast orbiting the world three separate times! What’s even more insane was the fact that the bomb was actually slated to be twice as powerful, before a change in its design.

Tags: The Cold War | Tsar Bomb

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!