Here are the most spectacular and destructive atomic detonations in history. Most of them are in crispy HD thanks to the folks of Atom Central, one of my favorite sites. Looking at their terrifying beauty, I can't understand why we wasted so much in these absurd devices of mass extermination.
I made the GIF above stabilizing footage found in this video of the Plumbbob nuclear test series from 1957:
Operation PLUMBBOB was to be an integral part of the continuing national program for developing the means to conduct nuclear warfare in defense of the nation. Largely a joint [Army Evaluation Center/Department of Defense] operation, the program had objectives which ranged beyond those listed in the letter. The AEC needed to test a number of nuclear devices scheduled for early production for the defense stockpile or those important to the design of improved weapons.
The tests are from Plumbob Owens (July 25, 1957), Hood (July 5, 1957), Diablo (July 15, 1957), Wilson (June 18, 1957), Fizeau (September 14, 1957) and Galileo (September 2, 1957).
This is Grable, the codename for the 15-kiloton atomic bomb fired by the 280-mm Atomic Cannon at the Nevada Test Site in 1953—the only time it was fired. The bomb ended 7 miles from the cannon itself. Only 20 units of the Atomic Cannon—the largest in the US Army arsenal—were ever built. Fortunately, none of them was ever used in battle.
The 15-megaton Castle Bravo (February 28, 1954) is perhaps one of the most famous nuclear explosions and the largest ever conducted by United States. This crystal-clear footage of the explosion at the Bikini Atoll—which gives its name to the swimsuit precisely because of these atomic tests—is simply mind-blowing.
This is the Hardtack Umbrella test, an 8-kiloton underwater explosion shot in 1958.
More color footage of atomic bomb tests in Nevada, this one with soldiers exposed to the explosion. Even those who were in trenches received big doses of radiation.
This clip shows the other side of this auto destructive coin: The first hydrogen bomb test by the Soviet Union, in 1953. It was the fifth nuclear test overall for the communist power, which beat the United States on this one.
The RDS-6s warhead used a U-235 fissile core surrounded by alternating layers of lithium-6 deuteride spiked with tritium, and a uranium fusion tamper inside a high explosive implosion system. Though not a true thermonuclear weapon the USSR claimed it was, and in conjunction with the fact that it was air-deliverable caused considerable embarasment to the US. The US did not successfuly test a deliverable thermonuclear bomb until 1954.
Two years after that first US H-Bomb test, the Pentagon was dropping H-Bombs like there was not tomorrow. This series of detonations happened in 1956 over the Pacific Ocean as part of Operation Redwing:
In this atomic race, China also delivered its first H-Bomb shortly after the Soviet Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom. It was a 3-megaton device, shown here:
From the narration: "When the Soviet Union air dropped its first hydrogen bomb in 1953, the explosive force was 400 kilotons. Our nation during this test used a small size, low weight, mega-ton level bomb to destroy a designated target. This proves once again the Chinese people can do what foreigners can do, and we can do it better!"
The United Kingdom—as well as France—also tested their nuclear bombs on surface detonations. This is the British 1.8-megaton H bomb Grapple-X:
The deadliest of them all
And finally, the biggest atomic bomb of them all, dropped by the Soviet Union on the Arctic Barents Sea: The Tsar Bomba, which exploded with about 50 to 58 megatons of TNT, ten times the power of all the explosives used in World War II. Its original design called for 100 megatons, but that would have destroyed the bomber that carried it and generated some serious nuclear fallout.
This color image shows the explosion from 99 miles (160 kilometers) away. The bomb reached 35 miles into the sky (56 kilometers.) That's well past the middle point of the stratosphere.