Nukes on the brain

Our know-nothing president has wondered why we haven’t stopped hurricanes by dropping a nuke on them. Why he thinks that would work is a mystery. Hurricanes are energetic phenomena (the heat release of a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes), so adding more energy, even if it is a relatively small amount compared to the total energy of the storm, doesn’t make sense.

That hasn’t stopped his sycophants at Fox News from cheerleading the idea.

“You’re going to say this is crazy,” Kilmeade said. “But I always thought, is there anything we can do stop a hurricane?”

“I don’t think an atomic bomb is the way to do it,” co-host Steve Doocy noted.

“Okay, maybe that wouldn’t have been my first option,” Kilmeade opined. “But I always think about that. With all the progress we’re making with driverless cars and Instagram, could we possibly stop a hurricane?”

I thought Doocy was the stupid one, but I guess they take turns. Somebody tell me what the connection is between driverless cars, Instagram, and stopping hurricanes with nuclear explosions, because I don’t see it. I guess some people just see technology as one big mish-mash that inevitably leads to solutions for every problem they have. Hey, they can make electric can openers, so why can’t they cure cancer?

They should think more about the unintended consequences, too. Nuke the hurricanes, and you’ll just make the spiders mad and radioactive.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk had some more brain diarrhea and has decided we ought to nuke Mars. His idea is that because Mars is too far away from the sun, we provide it with miniature suns, close up and personal, with lots of bombs going off above its atmosphere.

“Nuke Mars refers to a continuous stream of very low fallout nuclear fusion explosions above the atmosphere to create artificial suns. Much like our sun, this would not cause Mars to become radioactive,” the entrepreneur [is “entrepreneur” a synonym for “loon” now?] tweeted yesterday (Aug. 20).

“Not risky imo & can be adjusted/improved real-time. Essentially need to figure out most effective way to convert mass to energy, as Mars is slightly too far from this solar system’s fusion reactor (the sun),” he added in another tweet, responding to someone who asked about the risks associated with this terraforming plan.

Remember that figure, that an Earthly hurricane is pumping out the equivalent of 10 megatons of energy every 20 minutes? That’s how much energy is in an atmosphere. He’s got a vague notion of that — he says he wants to send a “continuous stream” of nukes to Mars — but he hasn’t thought about the cost or any of the consequences. Furthermore, imagine that he manages to divert a substantial fraction of the world’s economy to this radically expensive plan (funny how the primary objection from Republicans to mitigating climate change on Earth is that it would be too expensive and wreck our economy, while this guy is scheming to wreck the world’s economy by warming an uninhabited planet) and actually raises the temperature of Mars a degree or two. Then what? It’s a dead world, it’s going to take more than a slight temperature rise to make it habitable, and good luck convincing colonists to move to the desert you’ve been nuking for decades.

I’m only going to tentatively favor this plan if it also involves seeding Mars with angry, radioactive spiders.

It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to work if it did happen, and all this is is a desperate ploy by Elon Musk to a) get attention, and b) sell stupid t-shirts.


  1. nomdeplume says

    I’m only going to tentatively favor this plan if it involves holding the next G7 meeting there and sending Donald in advance to welcome the other leaders when …. if they arrive.

  2. cartomancer says

    I’m tentatively in favour of launching nuclear weapons at Mars, though only on condition that we send all of them, and then don’t make any more.

  3. remyporter says

    Mars is well placed in the sun’s “goldilocks” zone. It just doesn’t have an atmosphere of any density. And it doesn’t have an atmosphere of any density because it doesn’t have a magnetosphere, so solar radiation (because it is rather close to the sun, as these things go) erodes the atmosphere. All the nukes in the world aren’t going to change that.

    Also, I’d like to see the math on lifting the insolation that Mars gets to Earth levels using nukes. I strongly suspect that this would require more energy than detonating every nuke ever produced. (That’s certainly the case with “nuke the ice caps to give Mars an atmosphere”- even with generous assumptions, you couldn’t vaporize enough of the ice caps to make any difference using every nuke ever produced).

  4. MichaelE says

    Eh, the way things are going right it’ll just turn into an even more devastating, nuclear powered, radioactive firestorm hurricane!

  5. Dunc says

    If Hollywood action movies have taught us anything, it’s that there’s no problem that can’t be solved by nuking something. Also, that the most common side-effect of radiation exposure is the development of super-powers.

    A cynic might see this as propaganda…

  6. Morgan says

    “But I always thought, is there anything we can do stop a hurricane?”

    Jaegers, dude. You don’t use nukes, you use Jaegers.

  7. random11 says

    When you ignore all your real scientists, you are left with ideas that worked in Sharknado.

    Well, at least it’s an idea from the first movie and not the later ones?

  8. OverlappingMagisteria says

    “Why he thinks that would work is a mystery.”

    It is a mystery, but my guess is that he watched Sharknado recently. In that movie they stopped tornados by throwing explosives into them. I think the pseudo movie science explanation was that it would change the air pressure/temperature and destabilize the tornado.

    Certainly a movie with flying sharks is a good source of sound science!

  9. says

    Look at the great job we’re doing terraforming Earth. Mars would be a piece of cake for geniuses like us.

    Implicit in the idea is that nukes can dramatically affect a planet’s environment. Get them off Earth!

  10. numerobis says

    A hurricane works by being hot at the bottom and cold on top, so you get a strong convection. Nuke the bottom and you’ve just fed the motor. Nuke the top, though, and you’ve weakened it.

    Also you’ve put fallout into the stratosphere. Within a few years of nuking just storms that threaten the US mainland, you should have enough fallout to eliminate the problem of storms threatening human interest, by wiping out humans.

  11. Larry says

    Well, don’t they stop a volcano with a bomb in that Gilligan’s Island episode?

    Oh, the one where the bomb explodes setting off a huge landslide that results in a tsunami that washes our gang out to sea, leaving only Mary Ann and Mrs Howell to spend the rest of the episode dying of radiation exposure.

    I don’t know but it didn’t seem quite as funny as most of the other episodes.

  12. mikehuben says

    It would probably be much easier to use giant orbital mirrors to raise the insolation of mars.

  13. laurian says

    “…Mars is slightly too far from this solar system’s fusion reactor.”

    The solution is painfully clear: Move Mars

  14. steve1 says

    Wow they get paid to say this stuff.
    “With all the progress we’re making with driverless cars and Instagram, could we possibly stop a hurricane?”

    Let me try. We have huge wind turbines and smart phones, could we have floating cities.

  15. PaulBC says

    I am skeptical of the methods employed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books, but at least they weren’t as stupid as Musk’s idea.

  16. chrislawson says

    You know, Musk has said plenty of objectionable things, and quite a few silly ones as well, but this comes off as pure drunken-sf-convention spitballing. Which is OK if you’re just having a drink with friends at an sf convention. It’s not so good coming from a billionaire with a space program who has a stated goal of living on Mars in his lifetime.

  17. nomuse says

    No magnetosphere for Mars? Obvious; another fine and perfectly accurate movie has shown us the way. Just nuke the core!

  18. chrislawson says

    Solar energy at Earth surface: ~1350 W/m2
    Solar energy at Mars surface: ~600 W/m2
    Difference: ~750 W/m2

    Surface area of Mars: ~145 Tm2
    Surface area of Mars receiving sunlight: ~73 Tm2

    Energy released by largest nuclear bomb in history (Tsar Bomba): 210 PJ
    Bomb energy applied to half of Martian surface (assuming 0% lost to space): 2800 J/m2

    To make up difference between Earth and Mars insolation: One Tsar Bomba every 3.8 seconds

    (Of course it’s not just about insolation — the relative lack of atmosphere means Mars can’t trap that heat very well either.)

  19. chrislawson says


    As well as the lack of magnetosphere, the weaker gravity on Mars also contributes to atmospheric erosion.

  20. says

    I feel like the idea of using nukes to disperse hurricanes has been around for a while. God alone knows where Trump picked it up, he gathers thoughtlets from all kinds of terrible places. I always assumed that the idea was to increase the pressure at the center of the cyclone to disrupt the system.

  21. chrislawson says


    It would be a huge effort to build enough mirrors to help insolate the Sun. Essentially we’d need to more than double the amount of sunlight reaching the Martian surface, which means our mirrors (if 100% efficient at reflection) will have to be a around the same surface area of the sunlit half of Mars. That’s around 72 million km2 of mirror surface.

    Admittedly we could position the mirrors to improve the angle of irradiation, but even so that’s going to take a huge mirror surface.

  22. garnetstar says

    Just what does Musk mean by a “low-fallout” fusion reaction? Last time I checked, the only way to detonate a fusion bomb was with a fission bomb, with all the consequent fallout from that. That’s why all the radiation poisoning from the early fusion-bomb tests. Am I out of date, or something? Or does Musk not know what’s needed to get a fusion reaction started?

    @17 Yes, even Kim Stanley Robinson had to invent small, portable, self-contained, fallout-free, fusion reactors and a DNA repair method so good that it kept people alive after all the radiation damage. He was trying for verisimilitude, at least, and tried to address the actual problems that his colonists would face. But, everyone who announces that we’re going to Mars has yet to even acknowledge that those problems even exist.

  23. stroppy says

    … where Trump picked up the idea. One of those “in the air” things that you’d expect to hear from stunted barflies in anywhere USA. The guy’s a moron in a fool’s bubble.

  24. nomuse says

    There’s a comment in Doyle’s (?) “Habitable Planets for Man” in which he points out atmospheric loss is a problem in geologic time scales. If you were to dump enough air on the Moon to be able to breath on the surface it would be hundreds to thousands of years before the losses became critical. And if you are the kind of civilization that could move that much air in the first place, you could probably do something about that.

    (Hrm. I see an SF novel there.)

    But these are fifteen-course State Dinners in the sky, no, container ships full of Hostess products in the sky. (Mere Pie doesn’t do the problem justice). Back in the 80’s we used to talk about seeding Mars with a handy packet of the right microbes. That’s the only sort of attempt that’s actually within our grasp right now. It wouldn’t work, of course. And even if it did, we’d have to wait a few thousand years for results. But at least you could get a quote right now from the space agency of your choice, and it wouldn’t be larger than the world GNP.

  25. unclefrogy says

    the problem with guys like musk and trump is their only real skill if it is not just being lucky is making money they have little beep understanding of reality or appreciation of their own real limitations comes from making all that money the easy way, because given enough money money makes more money and you do not have to know very much about anything else to do it.
    the luck is important though
    uncle frogy

  26. wzrd1 says

    No risk to Mars, all that fast neutron radiation bombarding the surface.
    Harmless as encasing a nuclear weapon in iron. Which would produce cobalt-60, which will give everyone superpowers from the gamma radiation.
    Well, not rotting, due to the area being sterilized counts as a superpower, doesn’t it?

    On a more serious note, a modern boosted fission device produces around a half ton of radioactive fallout. So, with either hare-brained scheme, one would either travel through tons of seriously hot fallout, traveling in immense bands in martian orbit or breathing a hell of a lot of iodine-131, strontium-90, cesium-137 and an assortment of faster decaying daughter isotopes. Sounds like fun, can we detonate the protective device over a certain Florida golf resort and the national capitol?
    Following it all up with wearing cesium-137 jewelry…

    Yeah, for those trying to figure that last entry, Goiânia 1987.
    Now, excuse me while I vomit.

  27. PaulBC says

    I have a soft spot for Musk and I’m also very jealous because he published the BASIC source code to a game called “Blastar” when he was twelve.

    I am a few years older and worked on two Z-80 assembly language games for the TRS-80 through most of high school, and just barely got a little bit of interest in them before the TRS-80 went obsolete. So on the one hand he kind of pisses me off and on the other hand he’s kind of cool. (Also, thinking of source code in printed form sends me into uncontrollable waves of nostalgia.)

    Teslas are the first commercially branded electric vehicle that people buy to be cool and not just to save the environment. That’s an accomplishment. SpaceX is kind of a mixed bag I guess, but building a large rocket that doesn’t blow up on launch is not an easy thing.

    For the past couple of years Musk has just been a clown. His $420 joke, etc. There is little reason to take 90% of his utterances seriously, and I do not.

    Now Trump. Gimme a break. He was handed hundreds of millions by his dad, never had a single original thought, and could have made better return if he put all that in an index fund. Musk is problematic, but don’t speak of them in the same breath.

  28. daved says

    laurian@15 I tried doing a related calculation at one point — I imagined a scenario where some giant rock was about to slam into the Earth, but all we had to do was move the Earth one meter further from the sun and the rock would miss us. I then tried to calculate how much energy it would take to do that and I came up with an approximate figure of one million megatons. No, I did not attempt to come up with a way to apply that energy.

  29. PaulBC says

    daved@30 Maybe you’d do better to move the earth 13000km closer to the sun.

    Speaking of planetary engineering, anyone else remember Alexander Abian? I don’t know if he really thought blowing up the moon was a good idea or just liked the attention.

  30. Jeremy Shaffer says

    I thought Doocy was the stupid one, but I guess [Doocy and Kilmeade] take turns.

    They’re sort of like the three witches in Clash of the Titans who share an eye and just pass it back and forth between each other, except it’s with a scrap of brain they stole from somewhere. They also have to share it with Pete Hegseth and Dan Bongino, so it gets complicated.

  31. says

    They should think more about the unintended consequences, too. Nuke the hurricanes, and you’ll just make the spiders mad and radioactive.

    Feature, not bug.

  32. unclefrogy says

    Musk the great from wikipedia
    dropped out of Standford to be an “entrepreneurial” the cofounded zip2 which he sold to compaq for $340mill then took that money to found an online bank that became PayPal which he sold for $1.5 billion
    using money to make money which requires money and luck of being in the right place and time with money.
    yes he is different he made money a little more legally where as the donald lost money until he started money laundering supposedly they both have the same gift of thinking they are the smartest guy around
    uncle frogy

  33. Dunc says

    Back in the 80’s we used to talk about seeding Mars with a handy packet of the right microbes. That’s the only sort of attempt that’s actually within our grasp right now. It wouldn’t work, of course. And even if it did, we’d have to wait a few thousand years for results.

    “A few thousand years” seems awfully optimistic. Mars may be fairly small compared to Earth, but it’s still pretty big. I’d be surprised if you could do the job in less than a couple of hundred million years.

  34. unclefrogy says

    if you really wanted to terraform mars and use nukes and have plenty of money why not use the enriched nuclear material to remelt the martian core by placing it deep enough in the planet and the heat of the nuclear decay do the work with a liquefied core the magnetic field would restart and deflect the solar wind hardly any more impossible and only take a really huge effort.
    uncle frogy

  35. stwriley says

    Elon’s a good engineer, but I think he’s been smoking a bit more weed than is good for him recently.

  36. says

    Elon Musk is just another guy with faults and failures, but there’s one thing he’s obviously good at and enjoys immensely. He’s a consummate stirrer and loves nothing more than getting the heads of boring people to explode with some carefully placed wacko ideas. Then while everyone’s distracted in their outrage he just goes off and makes more cool things.

  37. John Morales says

    Lofty, yeah.

    From Wikipedia: “Musk wanted the first three models to spell “SEX”, but Ford owns the trademark to “Model E”,[242] so he settled for “S3XY” by making the Model Y.[243]”

  38. unclefrogy says

    I think it is mostly the engineers and workers that do all the making like Jobs he talked up stuff and approvred stuff others did the work of actually designing and making the stuff.
    while he takes the credit cause he put up the money.
    uncle frogy

  39. John Morales says


    while [sic] he takes the credit cause he put up the money.

    Any rich person can put up the money.

    Musk takes the credit because he actually achieves. He’s a demonstrated achiever.

    (So, no)

  40. unclefrogy says

    he has vision and guts he does putt up the money and does the promotion but he ain’t doing it by himself there are teams of engineers and a shop floor that do the hard part of putting the ideas into real form. He has had some difficulty with deadlines he set with the car company and I expect he will have problems going forward with other projects as well. Walmart is having his solar power systems removed from all their stores and not getting any more because of serious problems. we wont go into the rescue sub at all. time will tell what the space venture turns out to be mostly experimental so far.
    he has a nice company and it is trying to maintain the lead in what could be a major new phase in transportation with his cars but he ain’t a god nor a supper genius but he does like to maintain his place in the headlines and he has been having good luck. What arev the working conditions in his factories? his offices? are they well paid and treated with respect?
    nuking Mars? come on that is nuts who the hell is going to sell him some and let him fly them anywhere? just what we need is a misplaced tzar bomba landing down range on earth even in it did not detonate only leaked on impact.
    uncle frogy

  41. Ragutis says

    I can’t even think of a way to respond to either of those two inanities, but in an attempt to be somewhat useful I’d like to warn any posters or lurkers in Florida or the rest of the southeast U.S. that right now it’s looking like a major hurricane is in the cards. Currently, the NHC has the entire state of FL “coned”. If you need supplies, get them now. The shelves will empty fast. And if you’re told to evacuate, do so.