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Nuclear fireball seen in the sky south of Kauai

On Friday, Oct. 19, 1962, at 10:29 p.m., a number of Kauai residents observed a brilliant, green-rimmed, orange fireball that burst low over Kauai’s southwest horizon, remained visible for about 10 seconds, and then faded into a reddish glow before disappearing.

What they’d witnessed was a glimpse of a low-yield nuclear bomb that had exploded in the atmosphere about 80 miles above Johnston Island, situated 750 miles southwest of Hawaii, which was utilized by the United States as a nuclear weapons test site from which atmospheric detonations of nuclear devices were carried out between 1958 and 1963.

Elsewhere, only a faint white flash resembling lightning was seen on Oahu, and on Maui, and radio communications between Johnston Island and Hickam Air Force Base, Oahu were disrupted for about 15 minutes.

Although the fireball made a powerful impression upon those who saw it, the bomb that generated it was considered small by the standards of that time, since its explosive force was measured at less than the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT.

Nonetheless, the explosion was still terrifyingly violent, as it was roughly of the same magnitude as was produced by the atom bomb that devastated Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

The Mana, Kauai, rocket launching site also participated in the test.

Shortly before the blast occurred, about 10 high altitude sounding rockets carrying equipment designed to collect technical data were shot from Mana into the sky high above the Kauai.

Noted Kauai photographer George Senda (1925-96) took the picture accompanying this story from a hill overlooking Hanapepe — the first photograph of a nuclear fireball ever taken in Hawaii.

George’s father, William J. Senda (1889-1984), was also a prominent professional photographer who took thousands of pictures of Kauai’s people, places and scenery that constitute a splendid historical record of Kauai during the 20th century, and the Senda Gallery in the Kauai Museum is dedicated in his honor.

  1. Kauainative January 14, 2018 1:09 am Reply

    Really TGI? You post this now just to get more “views”? What a cheap shot. Whoever made this decision seems to want to capitalize on the panic that some residents felt this morning.

  2. Bluedream January 14, 2018 10:35 am Reply

    Intentionally misleading headline attempting to cause more unnecessary panic, by using a 56 year old story which wasn’t even newsworthy back then and not newsworthy today. Grow up TGI.. Grow up.

  3. Paul January 14, 2018 12:36 pm Reply

    This article should go in the dictionary under the definition of clickbait.

  4. Monte January 14, 2018 1:37 pm Reply

    It seems the military always chose pristine areas to practice bombing. It doesn’t matter if this post is old. There is still radiation everywhere that was bombed. Doesn’t matter how old.

  5. PvilleHalftimer January 14, 2018 5:36 pm Reply

    Ill-timed at best. A few months ago I’d have commented “Interesting read. Had never heard that story.” Today, I’d have to agree with other posters. Whomever approved this article should be fired, taking the person who wrote the headline with him/her. Think people, think!

  6. Sunrise_blue January 15, 2018 12:52 pm Reply

    How many jobs were on Kaua’i in 1962? This was prior to the Vietnam War, 1965-1972. 1969 draft.

    Like anyone cared. Labor movements of the 1960s.

  7. Geckoman January 15, 2018 5:45 pm Reply

    Editor must be a liberal – stirring the pot for his/her own gain.

  8. Robert Young August 6, 2018 8:17 pm Reply

    This news article is not exactly correct. The nuclear blast lit the night sky pure white in Aiea then deep red then green. It took an hour for the night sky to return. It was terrifying.

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