Tsar Bomba (Царь-бомба), literally “Tsar-bomb”, is the nickname for the AN602 hydrogen bomb — the largest, most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, and currently the most powerful explosive device ever created.
Developed by the Soviet Union, the bomb was originally designed to have a yield of about 100 megatons of TNT (420 PJ); however, the bomb yield was reduced to only 50 Megatons — one quarter of the estimated yield of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa — in order to reduce nuclear fallout. Only one bomb of this type was ever built and it was tested on October 30, 1961, in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
This graphic does a good job of putting the explosion in context. Although the Tsar Bomb had already been reduced in yield by 50%, it nearly killed the senior officer piloting the plane that dropped the bomb.
The Tsar Bomba was capable of total destruction within a 15 mile radius, and could have inflicted 3rd degree burns on anyone within a 64 mile radius. As such, the bomb would have been enough to completely level most major cities and kill or injure many people in a large city’s outlying suburbs
Russia and the U.S. still maintain large stockpiles of tactical nuclear warheads with smaller yields.
You can still see the craters left by nuclear tests on Novaya Zemlya, the archipelago where the Tsar Bomb was detonated.
Many pictures and film clips of the blast are taken from Peter Kuran’s Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie or television documentaries. The blast was extensively documented so it could be leveraged for propaganda by the Soviets.
The Tsar Bomb employed a Teller-Ulam design, which is used in most of the world’s nuclear weapons. The Teller-Ulam design involves a two-stage detonation, in which a Fission bomb triggers a Hydrogen Fusion reaction.
The first Hydrogen Fusion bomb was “Ivy Mike,” detonated by the U.S. in 1952.
In the picture above, the primary Fission bomb is housed in the round enclosure to the left of the scientist.