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The Hydrogen Bomb: Definition, Explosion & Facts Video

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  • 0:00 History on the Hydrogen Bomb
  • 1:44 Chemistry Behind Bomb…
  • 3:32 Hydrogen Bomb Facts
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know that an uncontrolled chemical chain reaction produces a hydrogen bomb? Learn about the history behind developing this bomb, key facts, and why it is so explosive.

History of the Hydrogen Bomb

If we dust off our U.S. History book we will see that in 1950 President Harry S. Truman made a public announcement stating his support for the development of a hydrogen bomb. This announcement was met with concerns regarding such a bomb's destructive nature and power. Imagine a bomb that has no limit to the amount of destruction it can cause. Now that is what we can call one powerful bomb!

Scientist Edward Teller and mathematician Stanislaw Ulam were on board with producing the nation's hydrogen bomb. On November 1, 1952, the team successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb in Enewetak Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands. Just to get an idea of the hydrogen bomb's power, it was estimated that its cloud was roughly 100 miles wide and 25 miles high. Discovered to have left a crater in the earth's surface more than a mile wide, destruction of life was noted on nearby islands as a result of the explosion.

By definition, a hydrogen bomb is a type of thermonuclear weapon that uses hydrogen fusion. In general, the energy made for a hydrogen bomb stems from a nuclear fission reaction that is compressed to start a secondary reaction called nuclear fusion. Hydrogen fusion is a type of nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fission occurs when the atomic nucleus of an atom breaks apart or splits into lighter atomic nuclei. Nuclear fusion is the reaction of two atomic nuclei colliding with each other at high speeds to form a new atomic nucleus. Think of nuclear fusion and fission as the opposite of one another. While nuclear fusion forms a new product, nuclear fission causes the breakdown of a product into smaller fragments.

Chemistry Behind Bomb Explosion

As we go through the process of a hydrogen bomb explosion, it is helpful to view the reactions we discuss as a chain of events. The original thought when designing a hydrogen bomb was to have two bombs, one on top of the other. By detonating the first bomb, the goal was to have it trigger a chain of events resulting in the ignition of a second bomb, eventually causing a powerful explosion.

Use the following diagram as a guide, and we'll look at this process more in depth:

The Hydrogen Bomb Process
hydrogen bomb

When the first bomb is detonated, this triggers a wave of x-rays to be emitted. These x-rays will produce lots of heat or energy prior to bombarding the cylinder. If you heat something, what does it usually do? That's right, it expands! This is exactly what happens to the cylinder; it expands and burns away, placing a lot of pressure on the fission fuel, which is made of lithium deuterium.

Still occurring within the primary section, this pressure initiates nuclear fission leading to the production of x-rays, heat and neutrons. Neutrons will travel to the lithium deuterium or hydrogen store within the secondary section. When the neutrons combine with lithium, tritium is produced. Tritium is classified as an isotope of hydrogen. An isotope is a chemical element that has the same number of protons but different neutron count.

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