John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Watch the Atomic Age evolve from 1945 to 2013.
Detonations from the early days of the Atomic Age through present times are all represented in this grim visualization of the planet’s nuclear activity. Orbital Mechanics, a Montreal-based “electronic music and visual trio,” created the animation to reflect on the 70th anniversary of 1945’s seminal “Trinity” test in New Mexico. A key at the lower left identifies each weapon’s name, yield, nationality, and coordinates, while the orange-red blast diameter shows the power of each explosion.
The action starts with the first U.S. experiments in the Southwest and the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those are quickly followed by tests in the Pacific Ocean during Operation Sandstone, like this one in 1948:
The next decade saw the world’s first thermonuclear burn in the same area during America’s Operation Greenhouse:
The British staged a couple tests off the coast of Australia in the 1950s, and the Soviets got heavily into the game around the same time, unleashing in 1961 the most powerful detonation known to man, the 50-megaton “Tsar Bomba.”
The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 forced most of the tests underground, but the frenzy continued into the following decades. France, China, India, and Pakistan all staged tests in the 1990s, and North Korea jumped in with blasts in 2006, 2009, and 2013. (This viz omits the last one.)
For those counting, that’s more than 2,000 detonations—let’s all hope that toll never climbs higher.