Russia just declassified footage of the moments leading up to the Tsar Bomba blast — the world’s largest nuclear-bomb explosion. The blast was equivalent to 50 megatons of TNT, making it nearly 1,500 times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined.
For decades, footage of history’s most powerful nuclear weapon was kept top-secret. Now, Russia is offering a behind-the-scenes look at the moments leading up to the detonation of that hydrogen bomb, known officially as RDS-220 and informally as Tsar Bomba.
Russia tested Tsar Bomba over a remote archipelago in the Arctic Ocean on October 30, 1961 — during the height of a nuclear arms race with the US. The country declassified documentary footage of that explosion on August 20, in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry.
View the 40-minute video, uploaded to YouTube which shows the explosion — a blast equivalent to 50 megatons of TNT. That makes it nearly 1,500 times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined. Russia reported that the flash could be seen from more than 600 miles away.
The video starts as the bomb is transported by rail to the detonation site. From there, viewers get a peek inside the giant weapon — though the documentary doesn’t divulge technical secrets about how the bomb was created.
Just before the detonation, the video shows two aircrafts fly to the testing range: One carries the bomb, while the other prepares to film the explosion. At best, there was a 50% chance the planes would survive, the BBC reported. The plane carrying the bomb is painted bright white to reflect the heat from thermal radiation. When the weapon is released from the plane, a parachute helps it drift to the desired elevation: 13,000 feet above ground. That gives the plane enough time to fly a safe distance away. At 22:44 in the video, the bomb explodes.
Though not shown in the footage, the shock of the blast forced the plane to drop 3,000 feet (the aircraft recovered before it landed). The explosion flattened the surrounding terrain, leaving nothing but scorched earth in its wake.
“It seemed to suck the whole Earth into it,” the cameraman said. “The spectacle was fantastic, unreal, supernatural.”
The blast destroyed homes in the nearby military town of Severny, about 35 miles from Ground Zero. The shockwave resembled a 5.0-magnitude earthquake, shattering windows and collapsing roofs hundreds of miles away.
Still, the altitude and meteorological conditions at the time Tsar Bomba exploded reduced the shockwave’s impact. Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, says none of the nearby settlements “recorded any significant explosion consequences.”
To this day, the explosion remains the largest nuclear bomb blast the world has ever seen.