Sunday, September 12, 2004

 

When will we know it's been a nuke test?

UPDATE: This post is largely superceded by this later post. The blast was reported as happening on Thursday, and did not happen tonight.

However, the chain of events described below would still apply to any nuclear event.

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If it was a ground burst, it would have most likely been picked up by an Air Force Defense Support Program satellite. We've got a number of these up in geosynchronous orbit. They're primarily used to detect the flash of a missile launch out of a silo or a submarine, but may be able to detect a nuclear detonation.

Global Positioning System satellites carry as a secondary payload a suite of sensors known as the Nuclear Detonation, or NUDET, Detection System. NDS is primarily used to detect atmospheric and exo-atmospheric blasts.

It's possible that the North Korean nuke was detonated above the ground, but I doubt it was a high-altitude burst, or else a big chunk of China, South Korea, and even Japan would have suffered electromagnetic pulse effects.

Besides, initial reports in the AP article seem to suggest a ground-level explosion visible from China.

The United States also has airborne platforms that can "sniff" out radioactive particles resulting from a nuclear test. These are remarkably sensitive, and they don't necessarily need to be in the immediate area of the blast in order to verify whether one occurred.

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