Is it a bird?
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No – it’s a ROADPLATE, the world’s fastest man made object!
During the 1950’s the U.S military carried out a series of tests in order to see the effects of atomic weapons in various scenarios.
One of these, carried out on the 26th July 1957, involved sinking a 485 foot deep shaft in the desert and detonating a nuclear bomb in the bottom.
For reasons that have been lost to the mists of time, someone elected to place a half ton steel road plate over the head of the excavation – in all probability, to prevent the technicians working around the site setting up test apparatus, from accidentally falling in.
Anyhoo – in the aftermath of the explosion, which by all accounts resembled a giant roman candle, all of the results and gear were checked. Mysteriously, the roadplate was nowhere to be found.
Robert Brownlee, the astrophysicist who had designed the original test, had it all recreated, this time at a depth of 500 feet, and a similar 500 kg steel plate was installed. On the 27th August 1957 the second device was detonated and this time it was all captured on high speed cameras. Brownlee used the frames to calculate the speed of the plate as it was blasted skywards at a rate of 125,000 mph! To put that in perspective, escape velocity for a spacecraft is a mere 25,000 mph.
This made the pair of them the fastest man made objects by some mark and for years afterwards physicists argued on the fate of these hypersonic trench covers. More recently, with the advent of super computers and greatly increased knowledge of how objects moving at those sorts of speeds behave, it’s been established that neither one would have been completely vaporised before they left the Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s also been calculated that they would have passed Pluto as early as 1961 and still continue they’re voyage of discovery in deep space, seeking out new life and new civilizations – boldly going where no item of non-mechanical plant has gone before. 😉