5 Things That Sound, Move, or Smell Like a Nuclear Explosion – Facts So Romantic

The Licorne (“Unicorn”) thermonuclear test; Fangataufa, French Polynesia; 1970CTBTO

After most of the world’s nations signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, in 1996,  they set up a new commission to watch out for clandestine explosions. Since then the commission (CTBTO) has wired the world with hundreds of seismometers, infrasound detectors, radionuclide sniffers, and underwater microphones. The stations send their data to the CTBTO’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, where it is analyzed for signs of a secret bomb. But the system keeps picking up other things, too—which is sometimes a problem for the system and sometimes a boon to science. Here are some of the things that can at first seem like nuclear tests:

1. Space rocks: Nuclear explosions create low-frequency sound waves that humans can’t hear; that’s why the CTBTO has put 60 infrasound detectors all over the world. They’re actually microbarometers, which measure changes in air pressure caused by infrasonic waves.

But nuclear explosions aren’t the only things that make such waves. The biggest infrasound event that the system ever picked up—bigger even than recent nuclear tests—was the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, in Russia’s Ural Mountains, in February of 2013. Twenty…
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