Hydrogen Bomb | Hydrogen Bomb v/s Atomic Bomb

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Before we understand the Hydrogen Bomb itself, there is a need to delve a bit into the Branch of Science Called Nuclear Physics to understand how a Hydrogen Bomb functions….


The Humanity at large had been aware of Our Brightest Star “The Sun” from our solar system as the prime source of energy

Sunlight is by far the predominant source, and it contains a surprisingly large amount of energy. On average, even after passing through milllions of kilometers in the space & many kilometers of air on a clear day, solar radiation reaches Earth with more than enough energy in a single square meter to illuminate five 60-watt lightbulbs, if all the sunlight could be captured and converted to electricity.

The sun’s energy warms the planet’s surface, powering gigantic amounts of heat and pressure in weather patterns and ocean currents. The resulting air currents drive wind turbines, to generate electricity. Solar energy also evaporates water that falls as rain and builds up behind dams, where its used to generate electricity via hydropower.

When sunlight strikes a plant, some of the energy is trapped through photosynthesis and is stored in chemical bonds as the plant grows. We can recover that energy months or years later by burning wood, which breaks the bonds and releases energy as heat and light. We also use the stored energy in the much more concentrated forms that result when organic matter, after millions of years of geological and chemical activity underground, turns into fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, or natural gas. Either way, we’re reclaiming the power of sunlight, the humans’ prime & known source of energy…..

Before Understanding Hydrogen Bomb ,Have You Ever Wondered…

How does the Sun make energy?…..What is the Sun made of?…..Which reaction creates most of the energy released by the Sun?

So before we go on to explore this…..let us understand a few fundamentals

Powerflash to Fundamentals of Science……

The physical world is composed of combinations of various subatomic or fundamental particles. These are the smallest building blocks of matter. All matter except dark matter is made of molecules, which are themselves made of atoms. The atoms consist of two parts. An atomic nucleus and an electron cloud. The electrons are spinning around the atomic nucleus. The nucleus itself is generally made of protons and neutrons but even these are composite objects. Inside the protons and neutrons, we find the quarks.

Introduction to a Branch of Science called Nuclear Engineering

Hydrogen Bomb - Introduction to a Branch of Science called Nuclear Engineering

However, only a few of these fundamental particles (in fact, some of these are not fundamental particles) are very important in nuclear engineering. Nuclear engineering or theory of nuclear reactors operates with much better known subatomic particles such as:

  • Electrons. The electrons are negatively charged, almost massless particles that nevertheless account for most of the size of the atom. Electrons were discovered by Sir John Joseph Thomson in 1897. Electrons are located in an electron cloud, which is the area surrounding the nucleus of the atom. The electron is only one member of a class of elementary particles, which forms an atom.
  • Protons. The protons are positively charged, massive particles that are located inside the atomic nucleus. Protons were discovered by Ernest Rutherford in the year 1919, when he performed his gold foil experiment.
  • Neutron. Neutrons are located in the nucleus with the protons. Along with protons, they make up almost all of the mass of the atom. Neutrons were discovered by James Chadwick in 1932, when he demonstrated that penetrating radiation incorporated beams of neutral particles.
  • Photon. A photon is an elementary particle, the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. The photon is the quantum of light (discrete bundle of electromagnetic energy). Photons are always in motion and, in a vacuum, have a constant speed of light to all observers (c = 2.998 x 108 m/s).
  • Neutrino. A neutrino is an elementary particle, one of particles which make up the universe. Neutrinos are electrically neutral, weakly interacting and therefore able to pass through great distances in matter without being affected by it.
  • Positron. Positron is an antiparticle of a negative electron. Positrons, also called positive electron,  have a positive electric charge and have the same mass and magnitude of charge as the electron. Annihilation occurs, when a low-energy positron collides with a low-energy electron.

The atom consists of a small but massive nucleus surrounded by a cloud of rapidly moving electrons. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons

Nuclear Stability

Nuclear Stability - Hydrog Bomb

Nuclear Stabilityis a concept that helps to identify the stability of an isotope.  Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons in each atom.

To identify the stability of an isotope it is needed to find the ratio of neutrons to protons.

Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons, which attract each other through the nuclear force, while protons repel each other via the electric force due to their positive charge. These two forces compete, leading to various stability of nuclei. There are only certain combinations of neutrons and protons, which forms stable nuclei.

Neutrons stabilize the nucleus, because they attract each other and protons , which helps offset the electrical repulsion between protons. As a result, as the number of protons increases, an increasing ratio of neutrons to protons is needed to form a stable nucleus. If there are too many or too few neutrons for a given number of protons, the resulting nucleus is not stable and it undergoes radioactive decay. Unstable isotopes decay through various radioactive decay pathways, most commonly alpha decay, beta decay, or electron capture. Many other rare types of decay, such as spontaneous fission or neutron emission are known. It should be noted that all of these decay pathways may be accompanied by the subsequent emission of gamma radiation. Pure alpha or beta decays are very rare.

A few cents on Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy comes either from spontaneous nuclei conversions or induced nuclei conversions. Nuclear Fission, Nuclear Decay and Nuclear Fusion are the examples of these conversions (nuclear reactions). Conversions are associated with mass and energy changes. One of the striking results of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that mass and energy are equivalent and convertible, one into the other. Equivalence of the mass and energy is described by Einstein’s famous formula:

E=MC2, where M is the small amount of mass and C is the speed of light.

What that means is that if the nuclear energy is generated, a small amount of mass transforms into the pure energy (such as kinetic energy, thermal energy, or radiant energy).

Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through some material or through space.

Light, heat and sound are types of radiation.

Radioactive decay

Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity or nuclear radiation) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy (in terms of mass in its rest frame) by emitting radiation, such as an alpha particle, beta particle with neutrino or only a neutrino in the case of electron capture, or a gamma ray or electron in the case of internal conversion.

Radioactive decay is a random process at the level of single atoms, in that, according to quantum theory, it is impossible to predict when a particular atom will decay.

The rate of nuclear decay is also measured in terms of half-lives. The half-life is the amount of time it takes for a given isotope to lose half of its radioactivity. If a radioisotope has a half-life of 14 days, half of its atoms will have decayed within 14 days. In 14 more days, half of that remaining half will decay, and so on. Half-lives range from millionths of a second for highly radioactive fission products to billions of years for long-lived materials (such as naturally occurring uranium).

Nuclear fusion

In nuclear fusion, two low mass nuclei come into very close contact with each other, so that the strong force fuses them. It requires a large amount of energy for the strong or nuclear forces to overcome the electrical repulsion between the nuclei in order to, in brief, them; therefore, fusion can only take place at very high temperatures or high pressures. When nuclei fuse, a very large amount of energy is released and the combined nucleus assumes a lower energy level. The binding energy per nucleon increases with the mass number up to nickel-62. Stars like the Sun are powered by the fusion of four protons into a helium nucleus, two protons, and two neutrinos. The uncontrolled fusion of hydrogen into helium is known as the thermonuclear runaway.

Nuclear fusion is the origin of the energy (including in the form of light and other electromagnetic radiation) produced by the core of all stars including our own Sun.

Nuclear fission

Hydrogen Bomb | Hydrogen Bomb vs Atomic Bomb

Nuclear fission is the reverse process to fusion. For nuclei heavier than nickel-62 the binding energy per nucleon decreases with the mass number. It is therefore possible for energy to be released if a heavy nucleus breaks apart into two lighter ones.

From certain of the heaviest nuclei whose fission produces free neutrons, and which also easily absorb neutrons to initiate fission, a self-igniting type of neutron-initiated fission can be obtained, in a chain reaction. Chain reactions were known in chemistry before physics, and in fact many familiar processes like fires and chemical explosions are chemical chain reactions. The fission or “nuclear” chain-reaction, using fission-produced neutrons, is the source of energy for nuclear power plants and fission type nuclear bombs, such as those detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II. Heavy nuclei such as uranium and thorium may also undergo spontaneous fission, but they are much more likely to undergo decay by alpha decay.

Now lets go back to the Original Discussion—-

How does the Sun go about producing its energy? What is the process involved?

The short answer is that it is big. If it were smaller, it would be just be a sphere of hydrogen, like Jupiter. But the Sun is much bigger than Jupiter. It would take almost 1,000 Jupiters to fill it up!

That’s a lot of hydrogen. That means it’s held together by a whole lot of gravity. And that means there is a whole lot of pressure inside of it.

In fact, the pressure is so intense, and the density so great, that the hydrogen atoms collide with enough force that they literally meld into a new element—helium.

This process—called nuclear fusion—releases energy while creating a chain reaction that allows it to occur over and over and over again.

That energy builds up. It gets as hot as 27 million degrees Fahrenheit in the sun’s core. The energy travels outward through a large area called the convective zone. Then it travels onward to the photosphere, where it emits heat, charged particles, and light.

That heat powers the chemical reactions that make life possible on Earth, allows gases and liquids to exist on many planets and moons, and causes icy comets to form fiery halos.

And that light travels far out into the cosmos—just one star among billions and billions.

Just how much energy does our Sun produce? Well, in a single second, the sun fuses about 620 million metric tons of hydrogen in its core.

……That’s the history of the Nuclear Science….

Since the 1950s, physicists have been attempting to mimic the process that powers the Sun by controlling the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium. The key to harnessing this power is to “confine” ultra-hot balls of hydrogen gas called plasmas until the amount of energy coming out of the fusion reactions equates to more than that was put in. This point is what energy experts call “breakeven” and, if it can be achieved, it would represent a technological breakthrough and could provide an unlimited and abundant source of zero-carbon energy.

The smallest nucleus of any element is made up of just one proton, found in hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen, alongside helium, lithium and beryllium are the lightest elements in the universe meaning not much energy is needed for them to form. These light elements formed at the very start of the universe, when it was around three minutes old and cold enough for protons and neutrons to bind together. This is one reason why hydrogen plasmas are seen as the best source of extracting nuclear energy on Earth.

An Atomic Bomb v/s Hydrogen Bomb

Hydrogen Bomb | Hydrogen Bomb vs Atomic Bomb
Hydrogen Bomb | Hydrogen Bomb vs Atomic Bomb

Atomic bomb or A-bomb is a weapon of great destructive power, deriving its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy atomic nuclei

Practical fissionable nuclei for atomic bombs are the isotopes uranium-235 and plutonium-239, which are capable of undergoing chain reaction. If the mass of the fissionable material exceeds the critical mass (a few pounds), the chain reaction multiplies rapidly into an uncontrollable release of energy. An atomic bomb is detonated by bringing together very rapidly (e.g., by means of a chemical explosive) two subcritical masses of fissionable material, the combined mass exceeding the critical mass. An atomic bomb explosion produces, in addition to the shock wave accompanying any explosion, intense neutron and gamma radiation, both of which are very damaging to living tissue. The neighborhood of the explosion becomes contaminated with radioactive fission products. Some radioactive products are borne into the upper atmosphere as dust or gas and may subsequently be deposited partially decayed as radioactive fallout far from the site of the explosion.

The way the bomb works is this: inside of the bomb, an atom is split. When aforementioned atom is split, massive amounts of energy are released. It can be achieved by bringing an element to “critical mass,” which means that it’s so dense that it can’t be packed any tighter. This process is called “nuclear fission.”

In an atomic bomb, uranium or plutonium is split into lighter elements that together weigh less than the original atoms, the remainder of the mass appearing as energy.

A thermonuclear weapon is a second-generation nuclear weapon design using a secondary nuclear fusion stage consisting of implosion tamper, fusion fuel, and spark plug which is bombarded by the energy released by the detonation of a primary fission bomb within, compressing the fuel material (tritium, deuterium or lithium deuteride) and causing a fusion reaction. The fission bomb and fusion fuel are placed near each other in a special radiation-reflecting container called a radiation case that is designed to contain x-rays for as long as possible. The result is greatly increased explosive power when compared to single-stage fission weapons. The device is colloquially referred to as a hydrogen bomb or, an H-bomb, because it employs the fusion of isotopes of hydrogen.

To make a hydrogen bomb, one would still need uranium or plutonium as well as two other isotopes of hydrogen, called deuterium and tritium. The hydrogen bomb relies on fusion, the process of taking two separate atoms and putting them together to form a third atom.

In both cases, a significant amount of energy is released, which drives the explosion, experts say. However, more energy is released during the fusion process, which causes a bigger blast. The extra yield gives a much bigger bang.

Hydrogen bombs are also harder to produce but lighter in weight, meaning they could travel farther on tip of a missile, according to experts.

Hydrogen bombs, or thermonuclear bombs, are more powerful than atomic or “fission” bombs. The difference between thermonuclear bombs and fission bombs begins at the atomic level.

Fission bombs, work by splitting the nucleus of an atom. When the neutrons, or neutral particles, of the atom’s nucleus split, some hit the nuclei of nearby atoms, splitting them, too & the result is a very explosive chain reaction. 

Thermonuclear bombs start with the same fission reaction that powers atomic bombs — but the majority of the uranium or plutonium in atomic bombs actually goes unused. In a thermonuclear bomb, an additional step means that more of the bomb’s explosive power becomes available.

The presumable structure of a thermonuclear bomb is as follows: at its center is an atomic bomb; surrounding it is a layer of lithium deuteride (a compound of lithium and deuterium, the isotope of hydrogen with mass number 2); around it is a tamper, a thick outer layer, frequently of fissionable material, that holds the contents together in order to obtain a larger explosion. Neutrons from the atomic explosion cause the lithium to fission into helium, tritium (the isotope of hydrogen with mass number 3), and energy. The atomic explosion also supplies the temperatures needed for the subsequent fusion of deuterium with tritium, and of tritium with tritium (50,000,000°C and 400,000,000°C, respectively). Enough neutrons are produced in the fusion reactions to produce further fission in the core and to initiate fission in the tamper.

This. in brief explains about a Hydrogen Bomb and how different is it from Atomic Bomb….

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Vikas Gupta


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