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Physics sim makes nuking your town a consequential game

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A simulator launched today turns the act of dropping a nuclear bomb anywhere on the globe into a game where you can view some serious simulated consequences.

Alex Wellerstein, an Associate Historian specializing in nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy at the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, launched NUKEMAP3D online today. It allows users to view a video game-like 3D model of nuclear explosions and the ensuing fallout at any point on earth using Google Earth's browser plug-in.

Users select a point on the globe, the size of the bomb in kilotons — with presets that include some of the smallest and largest ever created — and a viewing location for the virtual detonation. NUKEMAP3D then uses the data to display information like the specifics of the mushroom cloud, overlaid on the 3D map.

NUKEMAP3D is a sequel of sorts to the original (and recently updated) NUKEMAP, which only allowed two-dimensional renders. NUKEMAP3D allows users to visualize the post-detonation destruction better, he explained in a recent post on his Restricted Data blog.

"People today have more calculation and visualization power at their fingertips than ever before"

"But the other NUKEMAP is something entirely new," Wellerstein wrote. "Entirely different. Something, arguably, without as much historical precedent — because people today have more calculation and visualization power at their fingertips than ever before. It's one thing for people to have the tools to map the bomb in two dimensions. There were, of course, even websites before the NUKEMAP that allowed you to do that to one degree or another. But I've found that, even as much as something like the NUKEMAP allows you to visualize the effects of the bomb on places you know, there was something still missing. People, myself included, were still having trouble wrapping their heads around what it would really look like for something like this to happen. And while thinking about ways to address this, I stumbled across a new approach."

Wellersteain said he spent time "chasing down ancient government reports, learning how to interpret their equations, and converting them to Javascript and the Google Maps API," to create NUKEMAP3D.

You can learn more about the effects of nuclear explosions and Wellerstein at Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, which is concerned with "the history of nuclear weapons in general (in particular from an epistemological, or knowledge-centric, point of view), and the history of nuclear secrecy in particular," according to his explanation on the blog.