Humanity’s nuclear arsenal is capable of destroying all life on Earth. Over. And over. And over. Maybe it’s time we dumped it far away. We might want to inhabit other planets in the future, so how about our closest star? How many nukes could we throw at the Sun? What would be the price tag for this mission? And could we accidentally destroy our only source of daylight?
The Sun is mainly made of hydrogen and helium. The temperatures and pressures at its center are extremely high. So high that the hydrogen atoms fuse together and become helium. That process releases enormous amounts of energy that powers the Sun. It is known as fusion. And you know what else uses fusion to power up? That’s right.
Most modern nuclear weapons get their destructive energy from fusing hydrogen isotopes. This is why they are often called hydrogen bombs, or fusion bombs. Around five billion years from now, the Sun will run out of hydrogen and die. A dead Sun is terrible news for Earth, which will also die with its star.
If humans managed to stick around for that long, we would be scrambling for ways to keep the Sun fueled and running. And if we were also still interested in getting rid of our destructive hydrogen fusion bombs… Could we nuke the Sun and power it back to life? First things first, we would need to gather each and every single nuke on the planet.
This wouldn’t be easy, since the nine countries that are known to possess nukes are extremely suspicious of each other. But if the other option is the guaranteed death of our only sun, they could be willing to give up their weapons of mass destruction for the cause. How big is humanity’s arsenal, you might ask? At least 13,000 nuclear bombs big.
Each of them with the explosive power of at least 100 kilotons of dynamite. The United States alone is estimated to have 650 bombs that are 60 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II. If you were overseeing this explosive operation, you would need to be extremely careful.
After all, you definitely wouldn’t want to have a surprise detonation. If every one of these fusion bombs went off, the explosion would lead to so much debris being injected into the atmosphere that it would trigger a nuclear winter. That’s because sunlight would be unable to reach the Earth’s surface.
Cue he worldwide below-freezing temperatures, ecosystems collapsing and nuclear fallout. This accident would devastate all living beings, humans and animals alike. In trying to save the Sun, humanity could block itself from all of its warm rays. Ironic, isn’t it? So yeah, you’d need to handle with care. Also, you’d have to sharpen your fundraising skills.
If a modern nuke has a mass close to the one dropped on Nagasaki, sending it to space would cost around $170 billion. That’s just for one bomb out of the 13,000. It’s fair to say the whole world economy would need to bend and break in order to subsidize the survival of the Sun and humanity. Even if you do come up with the cash, there are far hotter challenges ahead.
Like how do you build a spaceship that doesn’t melt as it approaches the Sun? The closest a spacecraft has come to our star is 8.5 million km (5.3 million mi). Even at that distance, it still had to endure temperatures of 1,377 °C (2,500 °F). Only thanks to a thermal shield, made up of carbon-composite material, was it able to withstand the scorching heat.
However we send our hydrogen bombs into space, it will have to incorporate a much-improved version of this protection system. Add that to the bill. And there would still be a mountain of remaining technical obstacles. Such as finding the safest location to launch the nukes into space, or developing the technology that will allow us to monitor and control them from such a massive distance.
But let’s say you managed to do it. All of our nukes are in orbit and within launching distance to the Sun. This is it. You send the order to fire all the hydrogen bombs into our hydrogen-fueled star. Now you wait to see how it begins to recharge. Just a little longer. Nothing seems to happen. The anchor of our Solar System continues to die. But how?
Well, as colossal as the power of our 13,000 nukes might seem, this punch is nothing compared to what the Sun is packing. Right now, our star emits over 70 million times more energy per second than all of our nuclear weapons combined. Even if it were running out of hydrogen to fuse into helium, throwing our hydrogen bombs to feed it would be like throwing a box of matches into a forest fire.
You’d barely make a dent in the blaze. That’s a bummer. But at least you didn’t destroy what little remains of our decaying Sun. If that was your intent, you’d need something with a lot more firepower. Meet the antimatter bomb. When the Big Bang created the Universe, it did so with an equal amount of matter and antimatter.
Matter is what you, the Earth, the Sun and most things are made of. Antimatter, on the other hand, is composed of subatomic particles with properties opposite to those of normal matter. Put a little simpler, it is the inverse of matter. When a particle of matter collides with an antiparticle of antimatter, they annihilate each other in a flash of energy.
If enough of these two camps came in contact with each other, it would lead to a massive explosion. Also known as an antimatter bomb. Here’s the catch. Antimatter is incredibly rare. If you pooled together all the antimatter on the planet, you’d only end up with around 20 nanograms. in comparison, a single nanogram is only one billionth of a gram.
That is so little that, even if it were combined with matter, you wouldn’t even be able to boil a cup of tea. You could produce more antimatter, but that would cost you at least $2.7 quadrillion for only one gram. Remember, we are here to save the Sun, not destroy it. Don’t believe me? You should see where our planet would end up if our star suddenly vanished. Not even the heat from all of these nukes would keep us warm.
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- “How Destructive Are Today’S Nuclear Weapons?”. 2022. icanw.org.