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Science Technology

Using GPS To Detect Secret Nuclear Tests 54

Posted by Soulskill
from the find-me-a-gas-station-and-some-uranium dept.
Harperdog writes "This article details how GPS can help detect secret nuclear tests, giving the US more reason to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Here's a quote about the 2009 North Korea test: 'At the time, however, the May 25 bomb also sent a different signature, this one into the atmosphere. It did not release radioactive gas or dust, as would be the case for a bomb detonated on the Earth's surface. Rather, it released a shockwave — a bubble of disturbed air that spread out from the test site across the planet and high into the ionosphere. ... We quickly gathered data from 11 GPS receivers — six belonging to the South Korean GPS network and five belonging to the International GNSS Service and scattered around Eastern Asia. The data indicated a sudden spike in atmospheric electron density just after the underground test.'"
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Using GPS To Detect Secret Nuclear Tests

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  • by dtmos (447842) * on Friday August 26, 2011 @01:41PM (#37220998)

    This work [ctbto.org] actually measured Total Electron Content [wikipedia.org], not electron density (a related, but different, phenomenon).

    Maps of vertical and slant atmospheric electron density over the U.S. are here [noaa.gov].

  • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Friday August 26, 2011 @01:50PM (#37221100)

    The US GPS constellation (NAVSTAR) has photodetectors to detect the distinctive flash of an above-ground nuclear test [wikipedia.org], among other detectors.

    Not useful for an underground test, but a little known function nonetheless.

    • That's the only method I knew of detecting (out of sight) nuclear explosions until this.

      Secret Nuclear Test...somehow it just doesn't sound right.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        I thought we could already detect underground tests with seismographs. That was how we identified the semi-successful .5 kT NK test, and identified a previous explosion in NK of similar magnitude as being non-nuclear in origin.

        • I thought we could already detect underground tests with seismographs. That was how we identified the semi-successful .5 kT NK test, and identified a previous explosion in NK of similar magnitude as being non-nuclear in origin.

          Yep, that's in TFA and in fact what they used to 'calibrate' this new system. However, having multiple methods of detecting something that people don't want to be detected is often useful.

      • The Vela Hotel [wikipedia.org] and Advanced Vela satellites had photo, x-ray, neutron, and gamma ray detectors and silicon photodiodes set up as Bhangmeters [wikipedia.org] for detecting nuclear tests. Presumably those would all be outer space/atmosphere/ground explosions.

    • by thogard (43403)

      There are other detectors on Navstar as well. Part of the design criteria for the detectors was to be able to tell which side of the Berlin wall went boom first. The detectors time stamp when they detect something and send that in the data stream. In theory your car GPS could show you were bombs were going off.

    • by NateTech (50881)

      Little-known? It's been in Clancy's books for a couple of decades, as well as many other military-thriller author's books. It's been documented six ways from sideways since way back into the Cold War.

      Little-known because folks don't pay any attention at all outside of military circles, but even though it's probably still under some level of Classification, it's certainly well-known by even the laziest military-thriller or "President deals with a crisis" fictional novel reader since the late 1980's at leas

  • I still have not heard any definitive proof that it was not a large about conventional explosives. There are many examples of conventional explosions large enough in the past, such as the Texas City explosion or the Lochnagar mine during WWI.

  • Doesn't this sound like overkill and/or reduncancy?

    There must be more efficient ways, e.g. Twitter...

    http://mashable.com/2011/08/25/animated-map-twitter-earthquake/ [mashable.com]

    Yes, Twitter of all hyped crap.

  • I am confused as to what this has to do with the Test Ban Treaty. The primary argument against the Test Ban Treaty is that it does not allow for the testing of new designs of nuclear weapons. It, also, does not allow for the testing of existing stockpiles to see if they are still functional.
    It has been U.S. policy from the beginning to maintain a nuclear stockpile that can function as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons by any and all others that have them. If the U.S. does not know whether or
    • by _0xd0ad (1974778) on Friday August 26, 2011 @02:17PM (#37221390) Journal

      When the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was formalized in 1996, the United States was among nine nations that did not ratify it. In part, US officials objected that technologies of the time were not reliable enough to ensure accurate detection of secret nuclear tests.

      • Thank you. That makes the summary much more sensible.

      • by Symnron (1533857)
        Interestingly AFTAC has been monitoring nuclear weapons testing worldwide since long before 1996 and had/has the means to measure them very accurately. Too bad the USA didn't look to its own technology(/sarcasm). Get Moose and Squirrel!
    • by KiloByte (825081)

      It has nothing, but the poster has an axe to grind. I'm thoroughly sick of those "that evil nucular stuff will doom us" crowd.

      Nukes, and even more, nuclear power plants, are dangerous but efficient. And that vile ban treaty is what destroyed the most promising project for interstellar travel.

    • > It has been U.S. policy from the beginning to maintain a nuclear stockpile that can function as a deterrent against the use of nuclear weapons by any and all others that have them.

      To be fair, it was US policy at the beginning to build the bomb and win the second world war.

      Any policies about stockpiles as a deterrent came later--I would guess the instant the Russians set off an A-bomb.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How do I set up my Nuvi to detect bomb blasts?

    • Just watch it. When it melts and catches on fire - quickly - odds are good that it detected a nuclear explosion.
    • by treeves (963993)

      Well, on the Magellans you go to Menu...Settings...Alerts...Underground Nuclear Tests, and choose ON. Garmins might be different.

  • As they say in the observation sciences. Its known that the position of ionosphere, humidity, atmospheric charge, etc. can affect GPS signal timing slightly. In turn these erors can be inverted (tomographically) to give maps of these phenomena.
  • GPS satellites contain a package called NDS or Nuclear detonation Detection System. They have since the very first launch of the very first satellite. I know this because I was in the USAF and worked the ground station for NDS starting with Block 1 GPS satellites when they were just early test platforms to prove the GPS technology. So, this is absolutely nothing new to me. Sincerely, Symnron Get Moose and Squirrel!

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