The Sound of the Bomb

Film and videos of nuclear explosions are almost always dubbed. What does a nuclear explosion actually sound like to a person on the ground? Postdoctoral Historian Alex Wellerstein of the Center for History of Physics has found and posted on his “Restricted Data” blog rare footage from a Cold War nuclear test that addresses this question directly. The footage of the March 17, 1953, “ANNIE” test has murky visuals, but crisp, unedited audio, unlike most nuclear test films (which are usually dubbed in post-production).

With a good pair of headphones on, one can hear murmurs of soldiers and newsmen before the blast countdown starts. The camera “sees” the explosion about 30 seconds before the audible blast wave arrives, because the camera is 11 kilometers away from the explosion. As the fireball is rising, a sharp “bang” can be heard, followed by a long, thundering roar as the blast wave echoes off of the nearby mountains. The crowd can then be heard to shout out spontaneous expressions of awe. The footage is a rare example where the sound of the blast has not been edited to be simultaneous with the actual explosion, giving a more realistic impression of the on-the-ground experience. The article and footage can be found in the July 13, 2012 post at

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