My Big, Bad Battlestar Galactica Post, part 2

[part 1]

How Did Baltar Survive Getting Nuked?

Easy. He ducked and covered.

Bert the Turtle wasn’t lying. Why else do you suppose that all that nuclear war literature in the fifties told people to lie down and cover their head?

Forget about the science fiction you’ve seen. Nukes are nothing more than big, firey bombs. They blow stuff apart, set things on fire, and the radiation makes people die after a few days (something which the Colonials have a treatment for). It is scary, but not unsurvivable.

When a nuke hits, the electromagnetic burst travels away from the epicenter much faster than the compression wave does (kind of like lightning). We know that Baltar’s house is some distance from ground zero as the EM flash precedes the compression wave by many seconds. Six has more than enough time to explain her resurrection before the edge of the compression wave hits.

At this range, having your body crushed or getting set on fire is less of a concern than getting hit by debris picked up by the (now declining in power) compression wave. Sure, a planetary-scale nuke is going to crush your body and set it on fire at ground zero, but ground zero around even a 50MT warhead is less than 100 kilometres wide. But with blast overpressure decreasing in power in accordance with the inverse square law, one can be fairly certain that a nuke won’t flay the flesh from your bones if you are far enough away to actually notice the flash. Baltar survived the blast by simply not being in the way of all the of the flying glass. Six didn’t.

I think maybe the special effects guys in the miniseries got a little too enthusiastic with their special effects, and maybe it’s because they figured that they had a lot of audience expectation to live up to. Likewise, I think the makeup folks weren’t enthusiastic enough. One would have expected Baltar to have serious lacerations on his hands and arms from the shattering glass (assuming he lied down and covered his head). But could he have survived the nuclear blast at that apparent range? Of course.

Caprica City Seems To Be In Pretty Good Shape After Getting Nuked

Compared to Baltar’s house, Caprica City seems to have faired well. A little bit rough around the edges, but most of the buildings are standing.

I’m working with the assumption that a planetary-scale nuke is in the 50MT range, kind of like the Tsar Bomba. Blast overpressure from such a weapon would destroy most buildings around it for maybe 30km, and cause fires for another 30km beyond. One would expect the cities on Caprica to be reduced to rubble.

But as we discover in Downloaded, the Cylons intend to resettle Caprica. So to reduce the amount of surface damage, my thinking is that they used very high altitude enhanced radiation weapons (eg. neutron bombs). You detonate these at very high altitudes, over flat terrain or bodies of water. Much of the compression energy of the weapon is lost, but lethal doses of radiation are spread over a much larger area. You pepper the planet with a bunch of these and wait. Most of the people will eventually die, yet many of the structures will remain relatively intact. If you want to move in, all you would have to do is clean up the bodies and sweep up the litter.

This contradicts what happened to Baltar’s house somewhat, but again, I think the special effects folks were overly enthusiastic with that scene.

Next post: there is more to Cylon society than meets the eye.

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