Whence Smoke Tendrils from Atomic Blasts?

I have noticed, when I see films of atomic explosions, that there are frequently several parallel (though slightly squiggly) smoke tendrils extending from the sky up into the clouds. I have racked my brain trying to figure out why these happen, and I haven’t a clue. I can’t even figure out why, once they’re created (somehow), they aren’t disrupted by the shock front.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch some films of above-ground atomic tests.

I believe those smoke tendrils were created before the test. They form a background against which the blast and subsequent mushroom cloud can be measured for size.

Does anyone else, deep down inside, have a sneaking wish that they could witness a live, above-ground atomic test? It’s not going to happen, and we should be glad of it, but all the same, wouldn’t that be the most kick-ass event of your life?


This exact topic was discussed in GQ some time ago. The thread was called “nuclear kaboom lines” or something similar. I’ve looked for it, but the search engine seems to think all threads are about rechargeable batteries…

Anyway, if you can find it, there were several possible explanations brought forward.

The guts of the answer to the previous thread, read it, said these are the result of smoke rockets launched independently of the nuke blast in order to give the observers a means to measure the blast’s effect on surrounding air.

Thanks, Beatle, for pointing me in the direction of that older thread. So it appears that the lines come from smoke rockets. I also gather that they are not displaced by the shock front because it isn’t “wind” but “shock” (i.e. it may push the smoke trails out, but then there’s a rebound effect).

As for the idea of seeing an atomic explosion live, I think I could do without the radiation bonus. You could probably get a similar charge by watching a launch of the space shuttle from as close as they’ll let you get. (Maybe a few orders of magnitude less kaboom, but you can get closer, so I’m sure it’s still overwhelming.)

OK, I guess it’s just me and Edward Teller then–radiation notwithstanding, he seems to have lived to a ripe old age, don’t you think?


Mein Fuehrer, I can walk!–Dr. Strangelove

The Challenger launch, maybe. Don’t think (or hope) that kind of launch will be repeated anytime soon, though.


“Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds; waiting the hour that ripens to their doom.”–J. Robert Oppenheimer

During the first A-bomb test one of the scientists (I think it was Oppenheimer?) quoted a bit of Hindu sacred text.

Scientists were certainly much more educated in those days. If the Bomb were invented now, what would the developers say when they set off? “Awwwwsome!” That’s about it.

The text was:

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Some controversy remains on whether Dr. Oppenheimer said this immediately after, or upon being asked what his immediate response was, during subsequent interviews.

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Doghouse Reilly wrote:

Which is kinda ironic, considering how he is, in the minds of many scientists (including Carl Sagan), single-handedly responsible for creating the most destructive weapon the world has ever seen.

Quick-N-Dirty Aviation: Trading altitude for airspeed since 1992.

Proof that nobody here actually reads sig lines?