How powerful is a hydrogen bomb? And how it works?

At 8:15 on the morning of 6th august 1945, all people saw was a blinding light followed by complete darkness and destruction. It was the most powerful weapon ever created by mankind. It unleashed energy and radiation that killed a hundred and forty thousand people in the industrial city of Hiroshima, Japan. Today we have thermonuclear weapons, also called as the hydrogen bomb. Edward Teller, a Hungarian physicist, worked on the Manhattan project to produce the first atomic bomb based uranium fission, teller had long been interested in a hydrogen fusion bomb, but secrecy and the lack of access to computers contributed to slow progress. Stanislaw Ulam, a polish mathematician realized that a fission bomb could be used as a trigger for a fusion reaction. It is believed that teller seized on this for what became, in 1951, the “Teller-Ulam” design. Most sources agree that the H-bomb works in a series of stages, occurring in microseconds, one after the other. A narrow metal case houses two nuclear devices separated by polystyrene foam. One is ball shaped, the other is cylindrical. The ball is essentially a standard atomic fission bomb. When this is detonated, high energy radiation rushes out ahead of the blast.

The first H-Bomb test took place on November 1, 1952 on the small Pacific island of Elugelab.

How a hydrogen bomb works?

The first hydrogen bomb released the energy equivalent of 10 million tons of TNT. While the atomic bomb works on the principle of releasing energy through splitting of atoms called fission, a hydrogen bomb works by fusion of atoms together and it produce more energy than the atom bomb. Fusion is more powerful than fission. It is the same process that powers our sun. And when fission is combined with fusion in hydrogen, it creates energy orders of magnitude higher than fission alone which makes the hydrogen bomb hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than atomic bombs. The fusion portion of the bomb creates energy by combining two isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium to create helium. Unlike a natural hydrogen atom that is made of one electron orbiting around one proton, these isotopes have extra neutrons in the nuclei. A large amount of energy is released when these two isotopes fuse together to form helium, because a helium atom has much than these two isotopes combined. This excess energy is released. One of the main problems with creating the hydrogen bomb was obtaining the tritium. Scientists found that they can generate this inside the hydrogen bomb with a compound combining lithium and deuterium.

Scientist chose hydrogen for fusion, because it has only one proton and thus would have less electrical charge than atoms with multiple protons in their nuclei. It is possible to combine nuclei when the temperature is increased. Temperatures needed are astronomically higher than ever that at the center of our sun – 100 million degree Celsius. The center of the sun is 15 million degrees.  At this temperature the isotopes become a form of matter called plasma. Now the electrons orbiting are stripped away from the nucleus. At this temperature the nuclei combined with each other and form a helium nucleus and a free neutron. But how is a temperature of 100 million degrees achieved? This is where the fission or atomic bomb is inside the hydrogen bomb enclosures comes into play. This fission provides the energy needed to heat up the fusion reaction. A hydrogen bomb is actually three bombs in one. It contains an ordinary chemical bomb, a fission bomb and the fusion bomb. The chemical bomb initiates the fission bomb, which initiates the fusion bomb. All these events happens in only about 600 billionths of a second, 550 billionths of a second for the fission bomb implosion, and 50 billionths of a second for the fusion bomb. The result is an immense explosion with a 10 million ton yield, 700 times more powerful than an atom bomb. Only six countries have such bombs, china, France, India, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The world now has over 10,000 such bombs capable of easily destroying every single person on earth many times over.

“I don’t know what weapons countries might use to fight world war III, but wars after that will be fought with sticks and stones”. – Albert Einstein