Rapatronic shutter; snap a pic of an atomic bomb

We never really thought about it before, but this post about Rapatronic Shutters answers the question of how to photograph an atomic bomb detonation. The post includes an MIT video where [Charles Wyckoff] explains how he and [Harold Edgerton] developed the Rapatronic Camera. It is designed to snap a photograph based on zero time, marked by the X-ray transmission emanating from the bomb before it actually explodes. This pulse is picked up by a light sensor on a delay circuit, allowing for very precise exposure timing. Many of these cameras were used at the same time, all with slightly different delays so that the images could be viewed in order to show what happens during each stage of detonation.

[Thanks Petrus]


  1. theodore says:

    Cool but I’m not sure how environmentally responsible it is to use nukes instead of flash bulbs

  2. Jack says:

    The original inventors of bullet time.

  3. Setatx says:

    I love the optics progression =) Cameras do amazing things, first out-worldly in the hubble and spitzer and such, and now its time we focus our attention inward. The more we can learn, the better. Cool concept, and if we ever have an a-bomb hit our face we can watch it in slow mo !

  4. ss says:

    “…this information could then be used to determine the efficiency of the explosion.”

    That’s sobering.

  5. biozz says:

    i can finally do something about all these nukes i got at costco!
    buying in bulk is not always the best way to buy

  6. hubie says:

    I’ve long been interested in these cameras. I’ve recently been contemplating creating my own version of one of these cameras by hacking a lens from a pair of active shutter 3d glasses but the ~$100 price range is a bit of a discouragement. : /

  7. beaglebreath says:

    Harold Edgerton is (was)an interesting guy. he was one of the founders of EG&G Labs. During WWII he flew in recon planes over battle fields at night, using the ‘flashes’ from bomb explosions to expose his camera film. Photographed all but 4 above ground nuclear tests and worked with Jacques Cousteau.

    HAD is having a good day with me so far. you did a zipit entry and a Harold Edgerton entry. Now if you’ll do an entry about Feynman, Helmholtz, using the triple-point of water as a pressure standard, and finally using saturated salts to calibrate a humidity sensor, you’ll have covered all my bases.

  8. Spork says:

    So…. where are the rest of the photos?

  9. cmholm says:

    For an explanation of the mottled fireball surface, scroll to the bottom of this link:


  10. Anderson says:

    “Many of these cameras were used at the same time, all with slightly different delays so that the images could be viewed in order to show what happens during each stage of detonation”

    The matrix – owned

  11. caleb says:

    um, i have to say thats one of the coolest things ive ever seen/read about. makes me wish i had a CBRN suit ready to go

  12. Andy7 says:

    Um… either that’s a pretty good zoom lens or a VERY tough camera. How on earth did the camera SURVIVE??

  13. biozz says:

    no one said it did XD
    could be an early digital or it could have used a series of mirrors to project the image downwards in to a minibunker

    who knows XD

  14. Discoman says:

    so, where are the build steps?
    wait, no how-to?
    for shame!

  15. 18t says:

    Very impressive shot. Surprising that you don’t see it mixed in with all of the usual test photos, I’ve never seen it and it’s really unusual.
    From a link another commenter posted: “The glowing surface of the fireball is due to shock compression heating of the air.” this was near a similarly unusual photo. Kinda crazy when you think about what that means.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,466 other followers