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.

  9. richard kulch November 6, 2018 4:10 am Reply

    i was stationed at Hickam AFB at the time and remember vividly that nights horrifying experience along with three other guys from Hickam. we went to waikiki in anticipation for what we heard was going to be a nuclear blast sent up into the atmosphere from johnson island about 1500 miles south west of hawaii. we situated ourselves on the near top floor open balcony at the end of the corridor in i believe the Hilton hawaiian village. at about 10:30 or so the world from horizon to horizon was noon for about 7 seconds then wave after wave of red then green stretched across the entire sky and was so remarkable and frightening this imagine has lasted in my mind forever. we all walked for blocks after not hearing a sound from hours of people also walking. i read something later as years have passed that that explosion caused a hole in the van allen radiation belt and subsequently depleted the ozone. i don’t know what that test was supposed to accomplish but it scared the hell out of a lot of people that silent night. this and other testing made the cuban crisis even more frightening for me. i hope and pray no one experiences those events again

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