If we nuked hurricanes radioactive fallout would 'quickly' affect land areas

No amount of "brute force" would make stop such a storm, experts say.

If we nuked hurricanes radioactive fallout would 'quickly' affect land areas
Image source: National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office
  • Donald Trump reportedly has asked about nuking hurricanes a few times, but denied it on Twitter.
  • The idea has been around for a while, even though it's proven to be useless and incredibly dangerous.
  • Hurricanes let off more heat energy than dozens of nuclear bombs combined and there would be no way to stop the radiation from spreading if anyone ever tried nuking one.

U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly suggested nuking hurricanes in an attempt to stop them. Axios first broke the news that Trump made the suggestion more than a few times in private meetings.

According to Axios, their source told them: "During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, "I got it. I got it. Why don't we nuke them?' They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they're moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can't we do that?"

Trump has denied he's said this a few times.

The idea to bomb or nuke hurricanes is surprisingly something that was considered in the mid-20th century. Scientists have routinely had to give explanations on why nuking a hurricane is a horrible idea.

This "solution" flies in the face of what's actually causing more intense hurricanes — climate change. Indeed, from the beginning of June until late November, the Atlantic hurricane season really picks up. It has only gotten worse in the past few decades due to an increasingly warmer ocean temperature.


You can’t nuke a hurricane 

Today, hurricane modification is resigned to the scientific fringes. In the 1960s and '70s there was more of a concentrated effort and vibrant research community studying how to weaken cyclones. Nuclear bombardment was one of those options.

Government scientists first postulated the idea sometime in the 1950s, but it was soon taken less seriously after they realized the dangers of radiation contamination.

Today, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) actively keeps a webpage dedicated to debunking this inquiry. They state that nuclear weapons might not even have any effect on altering the storm and that "radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas."

Not to mention, there would need to be an absurd amount of energy required to match a hurricane's strength. Heat released from a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.

Their statement adds:

"The task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would still be formidable. Brute force interference with hurricanes doesn't seem promising. . . . Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn't promising either."

The U.S. government used to run an experimental program aimed at curbing hurricanes by misting them with particles of silver iodide. This too, was deemed to be implausible. There are a number of environmental consequences that come with attempting to stop a hurricane. The aforementioned iodide spray could coat the ocean with millions of pounds of a soot-like substance and create problems for people downwind.

Radioactive risk is too high

International law prohibits the use of nuclear weapons for non-military purposes if it exceeds 150 kilotons. This is part of The Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, which was ratified by the United States in 1990.

While there is little data on the effect radiation has on ocean marine life, scientists have found that after the Fukushima nuclear incident of 2011, there was significant levels of radioactivity in the ocean. There was the potential that radioactive plankton could be washed through the rest of the world through sea currents.

The last thing we need is more nuclear mishaps, such as the catastrophe currently unfolding in Russia.

There is a much less dramatic — bombastic — way to curb the intensity of hurricanes. And that is to minimize the effects of climate change, such as focusing our efforts on clean energy.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
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