Physics of the Atomic Bomb

Physics of the Atomic Bomb

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The atomic bomb (also known as the atom bomb, A-bomb , or nuclear bomb) has a destructive power created by the fission of either uranium or plutonium. But, not any isotope of uranium can be used. Only U235 is used in the production of an atom bomb. U235 is very hard to come by due to the fact that it is only present within 0.7% of all natural uranium. In order to separate the U235 isotope from natural uranium a process of enrichment is used. The uranium must be enriched to 90% for actual use in a bomb.

The enrichment process is complicated due to the fact that the uranium isotopes are practically chemically identical. This means that the different isotopes cannot be separated with just an easy chemical reaction. The isotopes must be separated by exploiting the little mass difference between the isotopes. There are many different methods used to separate these isotopes a couple of these are the commercial-gaseous diffusion process and the centrifuge process. Another method of separation is the Electro Magnetic Separation process.

This enrichment method was created by E.O. Lawrence. It involves passing uranium ions through a magnetic field which causes the U235 ions to separate and take a different path than the U238 ions. Following this collectors are used at the other end of the semi-circle to capture the separated U235.

Fission of U235

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Fission is when a nucleus splits into many small fragments called fission products. These fission products become nearly half the mass of the original nucleus and the nuclues generally emits two to three neutrons.

U235 and Plutonium each have the inherent ability to fission making them perfect candidates for the atomic bomb. Plutonium 239 has a very high spontaneous fission rate making it easy to for the bomb to accidently fizzle before production is complete. While Uranium 235 has a lower rate of spontaneous fission making it easier to deal with when building an atom bomb.

There were two types of atom bombs created one was called the "Little Boy" and the other was titled the "Fat Man."

The Little Boy

The "little boy" atom bomb was designed to be a gun type bomb. They call it a gun type bomb due to the fact that the bomb shoots a mass of uranium 235 into another mass of uranium 235 to create a supercritical mass. Once the supercritical mass is formed the initiator emits a burst of neutrons creating the fission chain reactions. These chain reactions continue until the energy released becomes so big that the bomb blows itself up.

The Fat Man

The Fat Man atom bomb was created due to the fact that plutonium 239 has such a fast spontaneous fission rate. A new design was needed to facilitate such an isotope. The Little Boy is too slow to work with such an isotope. So, Seth Neddermeyer created an idea to use explosive charges to compress a small sphere of plutonium quickly to a required density that will make the plutonium go critical and produce a nuclear explosion. Thus, the Fat Man atom bomb was born.

On August 6, 1945 the Ebnola Gay dropped the "Little Boy" atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Just three days later the "Fat Man" atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Both of the weapons of mass destruction created havoc across Japan. Each bomb completely leveled each of there respective cities.

The "Little Boy" created an explosive force of 12,000 tons of TNT and created a heat wave as hot as 50 million degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the fireball. It instantly killed anyone within a half mile of the bomb. Anyone within a mile suffered from things such as severe burns, blindness and death. Many people following this eventually died from their exposure to radiation. Not only did the atomic bomb affect the city it actually affected the atmosphere surrounding the city. The intense explosion caused the raining with large rain drops, intense hurricane winds, and many fires to break out. The "Fat Man" had the same impact in Nagasaki, Japan but did not create as much havoc due to the fact that Nagasaki is surrounded by mountains. The immense power of the atomic bombs was tragic and took many lives, hopefully we will not have to see these intense weapons of destruction in use ever again.

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