How to Destroy the Planet

By Eric Roston - 2012-04-20T12:50:43Z

Photograph by Getty Images

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Global Thermonuclear War

THREAT: Explosions and radiation sickness cause irreparable global catastrophe.

REALITY: Eight countries hold about 22,400 nuclear weapons, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The U.S. and Russia command more than 90 percent of them. Less than half are operational or ready to be deployed quickly. President Obama summarized the state of nuclear threats in September 2009, when he called for a world without nuclear weapons: "In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up."

REALITY: The threat of so-called loose nukes getting into the hands of someone willing to use one is real. Less obvious is how many bombs it would take to actually disintegrate the Earth. Phil Plait, an astronomer, Discover magazine blogger and author of Death From the Skies, suggests it would take a lot more firepower than the nuclear powers can provide.

"Got a one-megaton nuclear bomb handy?" he asks. It'd take 57 quadrillion (57,000,000,000,000,000) such gadgets to reduce Earth to cosmic dust.

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