Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Modern Civ. Doomsday Weapon?

  1. Sep 10, 2005 #1
    I was hoping for some help with determining the feasibility of a doomsday weapon that would not destroy all life, but would destroy modern civilization as we know it (for a short story idea I have been toying with).

    What I was thinking was that if someone could create an electromagnetic pulse with enough power and sustained for enough time to envelop the whole earth (possibly emanating from the earth itself) it could do this.
    How would someone go about generating a pulse with enough power for long enough to induce enough current in every metal wire (or other conductor) with a gauge of industrial chain-link fence and lesser throughout all of the earth and all manmade satellites in orbit?

    Such a pulse would destroy all modern conveniences, destroy all modes of electronic communications, and destroy all fences. Most modern buildings -even entire cities- would burn to the ground. All computers and magnetic media would be destroyed. There would be no sources of artificial light. The more reliant on modern conveniences a community was, the more they would be affected. Many millions would die instantly, followed in the short term by billions more. All technology would be at ground zero, save the knowledge of some scientists, of which many would perish in the melee.

    The modern world would be laid waste. If humanity could ever "recover" it would take MANY years.

    Essentially it would thrust much of the world backward in time by about a hundred years, but that would just be the beginning. The social fallout of such an event could, though not necessarily, push us back thousands of years.

    Is this possible?
    If so, how?
    Could the earth itself be "the bomb" that emanated the pulse (I don't know, maybe shorting out the atmosphere to the earth, somehow?)?
    How else could it be done?
    What kind of power would be required to pull this off?

    Thanks for any help you can offer.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Sorry that I don't have time to get into this other than to make one observation—don't worry about the satellites. If there's nothing on the ground to communicate with them, they're useless even if fully functional.
  4. Sep 10, 2005 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Source: Electromagnetic pulse
    Purpose: In one attack, send cities down in flames


    Why do you even think that a building would burn down simply because it was hit by an EMP?
  5. Sep 10, 2005 #4
    Since when does EMP fully destroy electronic devices? I thought it was temporary.....

    Plus, even if somehow you destroyed all electronics, the knowlage would still be around, we would still know how to make and how to use transistors, etc.
  6. Sep 10, 2005 #5
    Because all the wire contined within the walls would burn.
  7. Sep 10, 2005 #6
    If it was powerful and sustained enough it would induce a current great enough to burn the wires out.
    Circuits would blow.
    Plus it would scramble or erase and magnetic storage.
  8. Sep 10, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I have not once in my life, ever, in all my years, seen a wires insulation actually produce a sustained flame. All I've seen is the magic built-in smoke containers decompress.
  9. Sep 10, 2005 #8
    I have.
    I almost lost my car to a wire that shorted to the battery and was in flames.
    Regardless, the insulation would not have to flame, it would simply have to burn hot enough to catch surrounding materials on fire.
  10. Sep 10, 2005 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    And thats why many buildings have fire-retardent in them.
  11. Sep 10, 2005 #10
    Fair enough.
    That is something I have to give close consideration.

    What about the rest of it?
  12. Sep 10, 2005 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You're stretching it. Apparently you know very little about electricity. No means of artificial light? Do you mean nothing except sunlight? Because if you do you have forgotten about fire which you mentioned would be burning all of our stuff to the ground.
  13. Sep 10, 2005 #12
    What was the point of this?
    Obviously I posted here looking for help.

    Are you saying that an electromagnetic pulse would not induce current in wires?
    If it will, could a massive and sustained electromagnetic pulse not induce enough current to overload wires?

    If not, why not?

    Making a pedantic point about the meaning of "artificial"?
  14. Sep 10, 2005 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The worst theoretical weapon known to a civilization outside of a hydrogen bomb is a highly effective EMP weapon. Currently, its a far fetched idea in of itself. a SUSTAINED pulse borders on the impossible. You'd have to gather a large enough charge capable of actually penetrating the earth. It takes hundreds of thousands of volts to send current a few inches through air so god knows what kinda power your talking about going through the entire earth and having enough strength on the other end to do anything to electrical equipment.

    What your basically asking is if you could punch the ground in Wisconsin and make a skyscraper in Tokyo collapse. Nothing impossible about it but you're never going to do it with anything man can reasonably conceive of.
  15. Sep 10, 2005 #14
    If there was a conceivable way of harnessing the potential power in the Atmosphere, do you think that would be enough, or would it still fall short?
  16. Sep 11, 2005 #15
    What do you mean by potential power? Do you mean energy released by breaking the molecules apart? (chemical reaction, such as that used an a hydrogen fuel cell engine)

    While I can't answer your question with certainty, my guess is that it would fall well short of being enough energy. Have you thought of using another method of this weapon, one that does not require penetration of the earth?

    On a side note, if you used fission to harness the PE of the atmosphere, there wouldn't be any atmosphere and the world would be doomed before the weapon even 'shot off'.
  17. Sep 11, 2005 #16
    I was referring to the difference in charge between the earth and atmosphere.
    Tap it like a huge capacitor somehow.

    I was trying to think of other ways to implement teh weapon, but it would have to cover destroying underground facilities as well, and cover the whole earth.

    Simply detonating smaller weapons in major cities, for example, would miss far too much.

    I suppose I was hoping for some odd Tesla invention that would cause the earth or atmosphere itself to be the source of the pulse. :D
  18. Sep 11, 2005 #17


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    One Raven, the earth just does not have any non-nuclear power capable of creating a sustained EM field that powerful. Look at lightning, its a tremendous source of voltage but it can't go anywhere relative to the earth and the current transmitted is miniscule.
  19. Sep 11, 2005 #18


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Does it have to be a weapon? You could write it as an unforeseen effect of the Earth's magnetic poles reversing. Just say that the reason there was no evidence of major calamities resulting from previous polar inversions was because there were no civilizations relying on electronic technology, and no high rise buildings that relied on refined metals for their skeletal structure. Or, you could forget about the construction metals; the overloaded wiring starting fires is believable enough, and with no engines or pumps functioning, firefighters would be pretty powerless to stop them. Just let it all burn down.
  20. Sep 12, 2005 #19


    User Avatar

    that isnt how emps work.
  21. Sep 12, 2005 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    He's talking about a sustained field though ... yah, its crazy
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook