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Thread: Does Halo's NOVA bomb have any truth to it whatsoever?

  1. #1 Does Halo's NOVA bomb have any truth to it whatsoever? 
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    I recently reading the novels for the Halo franchise a little while ago and I was very intrigued about one of the weapons that humanity had developed. They called it the NOVA bomb, and while we aren't told very much about it, it is basically a cluster of fusion warheads (whatever they are) encased in some sort of fictional super-strong material that is able to temporarily contain the nuclear explosions, supposedly increasing its thermonuclear yield a hundredfold, and potentially obliterate certain-sized planets entirely. Though I can't for the life of me understand how this would have any effect whatsoever on the power of the bomb. All we really know about its properties and effects comes from the following quote:

    "This is the prototype NOVA bomb, nine fusion warheads encased in lithium triteride armor. When detonated, it compresses its fissionable material to neutron-star density, boosting the thermonuclear yield a hundredfold. I am Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb, temporarily in command of the UNSC military base Reach. To the Covenant uglies that might be listening, you have a few seconds to pray to your damned heathen gods. You all have a nice day in hell..." A heartbeat later Vice Admiral Whitcomb's ploy of slipping the UNSC prototype Nova bomb into Covenant supplies had finally paid off: a star ignited between Joyous Exultation and its moon. Every ship not protected on the dark side of the planet boiled and vaporized in an instant. The atmosphere of the planet wavered as helical spirals of luminescent particles lit both north and south poles, making curtains of blue and green ripple over the globe. As the thermonuclear pressure wave spread and butted against the thermosphere, it heated the air orange, compressed it, until it touched the ground and scorched a quarter of the world. The tiny nearby moon Malhiem cracked and shattered into a billion rocky fragments and clouds of dust. The overpressure force subsided, and three-hundred-kilometer-per-hour winds swept over Joyous Exultation, obliterating cities and whipping tidal waves over its coastlines.
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    I'm assuming the idea is that by temporarily containing the initial nine nuclear explosions, all the energy of the combined explosions is released all at the same instant when they finally break free of the armor, as opposed to over the course of several seconds as is the case for normal nuclear warheads. But anyway, given the information provided about this fictional weapon, does anyone know whether there is any truth at all to this idea, ASSUMING that there was some kind of material durable enough to temporarily contain a series of nuclear explosions, which obviously there isn't, but just assume that there was. Or is it just pure nonsense?


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    The way a fusion bomb (or Hydrogen bomb, as they are usually called, due to the use of hydrogen) works is you start by setting off a normal fission nuke but you place some hydrogen in the middle of the explosion. The force of the fission explosion compresses the hydrogen so much that the hydrogen undergoes fusion, which creates another nuclear reaction even more powerful than the first. The hydrogen bomb is a real bomb that exists in the real world. The fission nuke that triggers the fusion uses plutonium or uranium, but the hydrogen is what undergoes fusion, from the compression. The reason they bother to do this is because the fusion of the hydrogen creates an effect that is much more powerful than the explosion of the fission bomb would have been all by itself.


    You understand the difference between fusion and fission, right?


    Anyway, it looks like they're taking that same concept and imagining what would happen if the fusion effect were even more extreme. The point in the super-armored casing is not to make the effect happen all at once, but to boost the amount of fusion that happens. Containing even more pressure would cause more of the hydrogen to fuse.

    However, there is one problem with it, which is this part: "When detonated, it compresses its fissionable material to neutron-star density"

    Fusing atoms to a final atomic mass higher than that of iron or nickel doesn't generate any additional energy. . The closer you get to the density of iron or nickel, the less energy you get. Going beyond that point consumes energy instead of generating any. So, reaching a neutron-star's density would not accomplish anything. But it's an interesting concept up until that point.


    Last edited by kojax; May 9th, 2012 at 07:01 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax View Post
    The way a fusion bomb (or Hydrogen bomb, as they are usually called, due to the use of hydrogen) works is you start by setting off a normal fission nuke but you place some hydrogen in the middle of the explosion. The force of the fission explosion compresses the hydrogen so much that the hydrogen undergoes fusion, which creates another nuclear reaction even more powerful than the first. The hydrogen bomb is a real bomb that exists in the real world. The fission nuke that triggers the fusion uses plutonium or uranium, but the hydrogen is what undergoes fusion, from the compression. The reason they bother to do this is because the fusion of the hydrogen creates an effect that is much more powerful than the explosion of the fission bomb would have been all by itself.


    You understand the difference between fusion and fission, right?


    Anyway, it looks like they're taking that same concept and imagining what would happen if the fusion effect were even more extreme. The point in the super-armored casing is not to make the effect happen all at once, but to boost the amount of fusion that happens. Containing even more pressure would cause more of the hydrogen to fuse.

    However, there is one problem with it, which is this part: "When detonated, it compresses its fissionable material to neutron-star density"

    Fusing atoms to a final atomic mass higher than that of iron or nickel doesn't generate any additional energy. . The closer you get to the density of iron or nickel, the less energy you get. Going beyond that point consumes energy instead of generating any. So, reaching a neutron-star's density would not accomplish anything. But it's an interesting concept up until that point.
    Of course I understand the difference between fusion and fission! Anyone who's taken high school physics knows knows the difference, and I'm in university. lol. But you'll have to clarify what you mean when you say that fusion above iron or nickle doesn't produce any more energy. I'm not trying to say that I think you're wrong, don't misunderstand me, it just doesn't make sense to me. If I'm not mistaken, a star being crushed into a neutron star by gravity produces some of the most powerful supernovas/hypernovas known to science, second only to a star becoming a black hole. So shouldn't the same hold true for a theoretical fusion bomb that compresses its fusible material to neutron density as well? Wouldn't that effectively be a miniature supernova?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fanghur View Post

    Of course I understand the difference between fusion and fission! Anyone who's taken high school physics knows knows the difference, and I'm in university. lol. But you'll have to clarify what you mean when you say that fusion above iron or nickle doesn't produce any more energy. I'm not trying to say that I think you're wrong, don't misunderstand me, it just doesn't make sense to me.
    It's true. Anything from Iron 56 on requires a net input of energy to fuse. Going in the other direction anything from Iron 56 l and lighter takes a net input of energy to undergo fission.

    If I'm not mistaken, a star being crushed into a neutron star by gravity produces some of the most powerful supernovas/hypernovas known to science, second only to a star becoming a black hole. So shouldn't the same hold true for a theoretical fusion bomb that compresses its fusible material to neutron density as well? Wouldn't that effectively be a miniature supernova?
    Quick and short, here's what happens:

    The star fuses elements at the core releasing energy until it reaches Iron. Iron won't fuse without a net input of energy, so the fusion stops at the core and moves outward, leaving behind a larger and larger Iron core. Eventually, the iron core get so large it can no longer support its own mass, and it collapses inward on itself leaving a void.

    All the outer levels made of elements that still do release energy with fusion fall in toward the collapsed core. When they hit the core, the energy of the collision causes them to fuse all at once in one big explosion.

    So it the the upper layers of the star falling in on the collapsed core and fusing that generates the energy, not the collapse of the core itself.
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    Okay, so we've established that a bomb such as described in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx is theoretically possible, at least in terms of how it is built. But what about the sheer power ascribed to the weapon in the book? When it was detonated it completely sterilized an entire planet and reduced the planet's moon to fragments. Is there any realism at all to that claim, or is that just nonsense?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fanghur View Post
    Okay, so we've established that a bomb such as described in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx is theoretically possible, at least in terms of how it is built.
    No, we haven't. The whole idea is flawed.

    Ignoring the problems of the fictional shell material:

    1. Using nine warheads is pointless. All you would need is one nuclear fission trigger and add more deuterium.
    2. Compressing the fissionable material to such a high degree will not produce more energy. If anything, it will cause the nuclei to fuse together, and as I pointed out above, any nuclei heavier than Iron 56 takes a net input of energy to undergo fusion. This energy will be released as these heavier elements decay, but you won't get more energy than was put in compressing it.


    But what about the sheer power ascribed to the weapon in the book? When it was detonated it completely sterilized an entire planet and reduced the planet's moon to fragments. Is there any realism at all to that claim, or is that just nonsense?
    Nonsense.
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    The heated mind resents the chill touch & relentless scrutiny of logic"-W.E. Gladstone


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    Okay, while I'm on the topic of the NOVA bomb, I might as well ask one other thing that has been troubling me about the scene in the book. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't any atomic weapon be useless in space as anything besides a thermal/radiation weapon due to the lack of any sort of atmosphere (interstellar gas excepted)? The way the detonation is described in the book is that the bomb creates some sort of massive shockwave powerful enough to literally reduce a nearby moon to a cloud of rubble. But wouldn't such a shockwave be impossible in the vacuum of space?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Janus View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Fanghur View Post
    Okay, so we've established that a bomb such as described in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx is theoretically possible, at least in terms of how it is built.
    No, we haven't. The whole idea is flawed.

    Ignoring the problems of the fictional shell material:

    1. Using nine warheads is pointless. All you would need is one nuclear fission trigger and add more deuterium.
    2. Compressing the fissionable material to such a high degree will not produce more energy. If anything, it will cause the nuclei to fuse together, and as I pointed out above, any nuclei heavier than Iron 56 takes a net input of energy to undergo fusion. This energy will be released as these heavier elements decay, but you won't get more energy than was put in compressing it.


    But what about the sheer power ascribed to the weapon in the book? When it was detonated it completely sterilized an entire planet and reduced the planet's moon to fragments. Is there any realism at all to that claim, or is that just nonsense?
    Nonsense.
    But couldn't the use of more than one warhead mitigate the problem of Iron 56? I mean You could create more energy without the mythical compression they talk about.
    Last edited by dmwyant; May 12th, 2012 at 09:35 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fanghur View Post
    But you'll have to clarify what you mean when you say that fusion above iron or nickle doesn't produce any more energy. I'm not trying to say that I think you're wrong, don't misunderstand me, it just doesn't make sense to me.
    Iron/Nickel is kind of the golden value for an atom. You could think of it as all atoms "wanting" to be that value, kind of like how matter "wants" to fall to the Earth. It's the most stable, lowest energy, value.

    The further you go higher than that value, the more fissionable a material gets. Uranium 235 is an extremely heavy atom. (Since it has an atomic weight is 235) The reason Hydrogen is preferred for fusion (or its isotope of Deuterium) is because it's very far toward the other extreme of being a light atom.


    Quote Originally Posted by Fanghur View Post
    Okay, while I'm on the topic of the NOVA bomb, I might as well ask one other thing that has been troubling me about the scene in the book. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't any atomic weapon be useless in space as anything besides a thermal/radiation weapon due to the lack of any sort of atmosphere (interstellar gas excepted)? The way the detonation is described in the book is that the bomb creates some sort of massive shockwave powerful enough to literally reduce a nearby moon to a cloud of rubble. But wouldn't such a shockwave be impossible in the vacuum of space?
    Yeah. Maybe the gamma rays would burn the moon, or subatomic particles released might hit it and degrade it. Or if pieces of the planet flew into it.

    But yeah, a shock wave doesn't make much sense.
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    A nuclear weapon (or indeed, a chemical explosive) would still work in space just like rockets can still accelerate by burning fuel/oxygen mixtures. There wouldn't be a wave of superheated air like when a nuclear weapon is detonated in the atmosphere, but the same amount of energy would still be released and travel outwards from the explosion. Most of it would probably take the form of EM radiation and travel at the speed of light, so the effect of the bomb would decrease radially according to the inverse square law.

    Also, referring back to the original question, the maximum yield of the bomb would be calculable from the cumulative, discrete changes in nuclear potential with every step from H to Fe (someone who's really bored can calculate this probably?) for the whole mass of deuterium used - probably several times more powerful than a normal hydrogen bomb, but unlikely to be planet-destroying.
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