An anonymous reader points out a recent story at NPR describing one of the greatest lightshows in history — a US hydrogen bomb test 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean in 1962. The mission came about after James Van Allen confirmed the existence of radiation belts around the earth that now bear his name. As it turns out, the same day Van Allen announced his findings at a press conference, he "agreed with the military to get involved with a project to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to see if they could disrupt it." According to NPR, "The plan was to send rockets hundreds of miles up, higher than the Earth's atmosphere, and then detonate nuclear weapons to see: a) If a bomb's radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might 'alter' the natural shape of the belts." The article is accompanied by a podcast and a video with recently declassified views of the test. They also explain how the different colors of light in the sky were produced.
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