"Dead Hand"

Not my usual firearm post but something weapon related. Dead Hand is a nuclear control system used by the Russians as a deterrence. The system detects a combination of radioactive, seismologic, pressure and light variations to determine if a nuclear strike on Russian soil has occurred. This means that even if all of Russia’s chain of command were killed in a nuclear strike, Dead Hand would respond by launching most if not all of the Russians nuclear ICBM’s at preprogrammed targets.

Dead Hand is supposedly only activated during a potential crisis, possibly to avoid accidental launches if a Russian nuke were to explode by accident. Dead Hand is said to still be in use and receiving modern system upgrades. However, the exact nature of Dead Hand is not known. There is debate whether it is a fully autonomous system or if it does require at least 1 surviving person to issue the final launch command once all parameters have been met.



Quantum Flavordynamics (Weak Nuclear Force)

  • This is basically the decay of a neutron into a proton by the emission of a W- boson.
  • The up and down part of quarks is known as their flavour, they can effectively change flavours, in this case it is a down quark into an up quark.
  • The W- has to be emitted for the flavour of the quark to change but it does not last long until it decays into an electron (e-) and an anti-electron neutrino (ν
    e ).
  • The W- boson (80GeV) is roughly 80x heavier than the neutron (1GeV) it decayed from meaning that it takes a lot of energy for this to happen so is seen happening inside stars which is basically just a big burning ball of protons.
  • The energy for this change can also be borrowed from the vacuum provided the energy is paid back, to do this we refer to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle:

ΔE x Δt<h

(amount of energy borrowed from vacuum) x (amount of time borrowed for) < Plancks constant 

  • This shows that the energy debt has to be paid back in 1e-25 seconds in which time the W- boson can move the distance of part a proton before it decays.
  • This process is represented by the special unitary matrix two dimensional su(2) in mathematics. It is 2D because it is only changing ups and downs.

Very Short Fact: on this day in 1945, the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The bomb released the explosive force of nearly 19,000 tons of TNT, and the New Mexico sky was suddenly brighter than many suns. Some observers suffered temporary blindness even though they looked at the brilliant light through smoked glass. 

[p. 19, Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, by Joseph M. Siracusa]

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This is Terrifying: Why Isn’t Anyone Worried?

More from POGO on the serious failures in our nuclear weapons command.