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Mike’s Next Adventure

Rapatronic Camera: An Atomic Blast in 3 Shots



This is a photo of an atomic bomb milliseconds after detonation, shot by Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton in 1952 through his Rapatronic (Rapid Action Electronic) Camera. 

The photo was shot at night through a 10 foot lens, situated 7 miles away from the blast, atop a 75 foot tower.  Edgerton systematically turned on and off magnetic fields acting as the camera’s shutter, as opposed to a conventional, mechanical close.

How fast was the magnetic field shutter? 1/100,000,000th of a second.

For comparison, a manual 35mm camera has a ‘top speed’ of maybe 1/3200. A really nice digital 1/64000.


This is 1/100,000,000th of a second after the first photo. See those little horns coming out the bottom? That’s lightning bolting down the tension wires of the now engulfed tower created by the force of karate-chopped atoms.

This isn’t the normal funny, Mike – why would you post something like this?

As a photographer, I’m inspired by odd things. I look at the pictures above in technological awe and giddiness. 7 Miles away?  A hundred-millionth of a second? Asymmetrical composition, but how do you go about framing pure, capricious energy? The blast looks like a glorious, shining ectoplasmic orb on a macro level. Perception is completely skewed; is this a Death Star explosion…oh, and I’ve never seen a bomb used as a light source.

As a human, It’s hard for me to fathom that something so horrible and destructive could be so mesmerizingly beautiful. I get lost in the skeletal blob surrounded by empty darkness. It’s eerie, unnerving, but looks inviting, galactic; perhaps a glimmer into Earth’s own beginning.



Another 1/100,000,000th of a second later, and you can see the Joshua Trees with the front row seat to Doomstown. After the blast, scientists found that the tower holding the bomb was completely incinerated, gone; the surrounding desert sand melted into glass.

Doc Edgerton looked at (somewhat) common occurrences differently through his perfected technologies of the stroboscope, snapping freeze frame shots of speeding bullets exploding bananas/cards, or an apple. But of all his famous works (which you can view HERE), the ‘Atomic Series’ with the Rapatronic is my favorite.

When I see the pics, I kind of zone out. I’m inspired to look at all different angles of everyday life, even the most mundane blips. Maybe I missed something.

I’m also reminded, or perhaps just driven by more topical situations, the pursuit/warning of absolute power – in whatever form – may look beautiful, but is it worth it? Do you want to have your molecular make-up flambeed and obliterated trying to obtain it? Me, I’ll just watch it explode from afar. – Mike


130 comments on “Rapatronic Camera: An Atomic Blast in 3 Shots

  1. tim says:

    Are you juicing “mushrooms” again?

    1. mabukach says:

      Bwahaha! no no no mushrooms. That made my morning, thanks, Tim.

      1. martibabcock says:

        can we juice mushrooms? i think it is worth a try.

      2. mabukach says:

        Sure, you can market magic mushroom smoothies.

  2. Nathaniel Hahn says:

    Sweet pics…and good facts!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Friend. ka-boooooom

  3. E. says:

    I can’t believe those are actual pictures – they look like computer generated scenes from an alien planet. You’re right – it’s scary how beautiful and fascinating they are. Thanks for sharing; gives me a whole new perspective to my day.

    1. mabukach says:

      Really, really odd pics. Especially how grainy the first one is, which is a testament to high bright the initial explosion was.
      Awesome, no problem. Glad you liked it, E.

      1. natureo says:

        That was plain scary

  4. free penny press says:

    Isn’t this world and what some can do just mind-freaking-boggling?
    this is great!

    1. mabukach says:

      It makes me feel insignificant….and I’m okay with that.

  5. jkmhoffman says:

    Reblogged this on kjmhoffman.

    1. mabukach says:

      Awesome, thanks for the reblog, kjmhoffman!

  6. susielindau says:

    They are surreal and I hope that they are the last ever taken!

    1. mabukach says:

      Exactly! Archive ’em, be done with them.

      1. susielindau says:

        FRESHLY PRESSED!!! Woohoo! You and Le Clown on the same day!

      2. mabukach says:

        Weeeee! That clown guy stealing my thunder….
        Thanks, Susie.

  7. I’ve seen these photos before and I find them utterly fascinating, and creepy as hell.

    1. mabukach says:

      Glad I’m not the only one. Not lying when I say it’s the most I’ve been to my own blog since the inception – just to stare at these pics. Now sure how I missed them in all these years involved with photography.

  8. The Hook says:

    This may be the most fascinating post I’ve ever viewed on WordPress!
    Great job!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Hook. Weird, wild stuff – glad you liked it.

  9. Laura says:

    Awesome, thanks for sharing, Mike. You’re right, the dilemma between the beautiful vs. hideously destructive is an interesting tension to contemplate. I guess a lot of evil is glamorous on the outside–that’s what makes it so seductive. If you’re interested in photographic pushing-of-the-envelope, you may also like this. I loved it….

    1. mabukach says:

      Laura – that video is absolutely stunning. Stunning.
      I actually have a print in my house from Sister Corita-Kent I’ve been looking to sell. If I do, I’m buying one of his prints. Thank YOU so much for sharing.

  10. I’m still always amazed by those slow speed films of a drop of milk falling into a puddle. I’m easily amused I guess.

    1. mabukach says:

      Those are also amazing. I stared at his bullet through the apple shot today for like 15 minutes, so I understand completely.

  11. I agree with the previous commenter who said these photos look like they’re computer generated. Or they could be from a 1950s sci-fi movie. Fascinating photos!

    1. mabukach says:

      They’re like scenes from Forbidden Planet, but Leslie Nielson isn’t in it.
      Thanks, Silver.

    1. mabukach says:

      Two Words: Thank You

  12. bmailman21 says:

    They are amazing shots! I’ve never seen them before. How dangerously beautiful they can be.

    1. mabukach says:

      They really are – still trying to fathom the logistics behind how they were created. Dangerously beautiful is exactly right. Thanks, bmailman!

  13. sha'tashari says:

    I have the same fascination with storms. They are naturally beautiful and the raw power is inspiring…but I don’t need a hands on experience. I’ll just watch the videos and view the photos.

    1. mabukach says:


      Oh yeah, same here. Love watching storms – though, i wish I were more hands off. Been caught in a hurricane, and a tornado. Not so fun to watch…

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for the repost, arzainal

  14. Eyagee says:

    Such raw power is both amazing and terrifying. Nice post!

  15. Eyagee says:

    Reblogged this on Stuff Found and commented:
    Just cool stuff you never knew.

    1. mabukach says:

      Totally agree. Thanks for the repost, Eyagee!

  16. eunoic says:

    Amazing. Especially the last one. You might be interested in this video of the first blast:

    not as amazing as these photos but still really amazing to see.

    1. mabukach says:


      That was both horrific and amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. Very cool

  17. I really like your blog and would love you to feature on mine, All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about. It wont cost you anything and your post will be on a google ranked 3 site. Many Thanks. David

    1. mabukach says:

      Hey David, Thanks. I’d be interested in doing something like this. Let me know when.

  18. varun321 says:

    That really is an incredible camera! The subject is amazing too. It’s sometimes hard to believe how fast things happen like how fast this bomb is exploding.

    1. mabukach says:

      Crazy, isn’t it?
      Can’t image the power coming off that explosion.

  19. free penny press says:

    had to march back over (yes in my Toms) and high-five you for the FP!!

    1. mabukach says:

      Sweeeeet! Way up high! Thanks, Lynne.

  20. Sara Ijaz says:

    It’s amazing how we (humans) could produce something so amazing so long ago & now that our technology has advanced we rely on media such as Instagram to make our images look ‘prettier’. Good read!! Amazing shots.

    1. mabukach says:

      Exactly, Sara. I still occasionally shoot with medium format cameras, because of what you just said.
      Thanks for reading!

  21. Nice post. Congrats on being FP’d.

    You might enjoy watching the documentary, Atomic cafe, if you haven’t already seen it. It is a great look back at the hoopla and PR during the ’50s over the A-bomb.

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Allan.

      Sounds cool. Will definitely check it out – just added it on Netflix.:)

  22. andy1076 says:

    WOW! yeah, I would stay waaaaaaaaaaaaay back too lol! considering how much heat is required to melt sand? dang 🙂

    1. mabukach says:

      Yeah, watch your eyebrows!

      1. andy1076 says:

        oh geez I KNEW I was missing something!

      2. mabukach says:

        It’ll be okay, you can barely notice.

  23. stefanieshaw says:

    Sets scanning my cats’ rumps to an awesome new low.

    Thank you!


    1. mabukach says:


      Thank you!

  24. Usman Jafri says:

    Wow. Interesting photos! I’ve always been interested in nuclear physics. 😀

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Usman – wish they were mine.

  25. norismatteo says:

    Reblogged this on cyclingacrosseuropeforcharity and commented:
    A very interesting post!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for the reblog, norismatteo!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, guychandler. much appreciated.

  26. Um, freaking cool!! Love this! Congrats on gettin’ pressed.

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks very much. It’s not as cool as being ‘freshly slapped’ but I guess I’ll take it.

  27. SocietyRed says:

    Great commentary on some amazing photos Mike.
    Great to see you on the front page again; well deserved!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thank you, Sir. That Clown guy was also on the front page….

      1. SocietyRed says:

        I saw that. You two are officially team dominator.

      2. mabukach says:

        We also both walked out in public with the same outfit. Embarrassing.

  28. Roshni says:

    Brilliant post! Loved your thoughts – especially the line about how “something so horrible and destructive can be so mesmerizingly beautiful”. Totally agree. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks, Roshni, I really appreciate it.
      And thanks for reading

  29. rencontre says:

    Nice picts! thx for sharing, its very beautiful =)

    1. mabukach says:

      My pleasure. Thanks, rencontre!

  30. The photos on the link are awesome. They make me want to experiement with photography.

    1. mabukach says:

      Super cool stuff. Do it, just as long as it isn’t pictures of nuclear fission….

  31. Raising Awareness of MAD

    1. mabukach says:

      Raising Awareness of SPAM.

      1. It’s not too bad with mustard on wheat, once you get past the jelly!

      2. mabukach says:

        I see what you did there, and I like it.

  32. Kristy Speer says:

    The pics are mesmerizing I have studied the aftermath of that bomb and I hadn’t seen these pics together or learned about the camera taking them thanks for posting this!

    1. mabukach says:

      What did you learn about the aftermath? I haven’t done any research outside the tech behind the camera work.
      My pleasure, thanks for reading, Kristy.

      1. Kristy Speer says:

        I meant the effect of the drop on Japan the medical and environmental impact I hadn’t seen the any tests pics their just a tad creepy yet very engaging thanks again for posting them.

      2. mabukach says:

        Ah, gotcha.
        Thanks for commenting, Kristy.

      3. Kristy Speer says:

        It is horrific the bomb was dropped during their morning rush hour rising the death toll massively, to add to that a scout airplane went over first that was not carrying the bomb they hit the air raid sirens and people hid, but after a few minutes they thought they were ok so they went back to their morning routine! One woman’s story just breaks me she was eating breakfast with her two small kids and hubby when the bomb hit obliterating their home one of her little ones was stuck under a flaming pile from their home she tried to free her but couldn’t she had to sit their and listen to her daughter beg her to get her out it took several minutes until she died that poor woman’s family were all killed that day. The fall out rain was awful it was black and poisonous but the heat drove them to drink it that only made them all feel worse. There are many story’s like this I studied everything I could find I felt like they deserved to be remembered like I was obligated to listen to them I’m glad I did, it changed me for the better at least I hope it did!! Those bombs are more disastrous than anything else I have ever studied I dig history and consume things like war, famine, or natural calamities I suppose I’m just odd like that.

      4. mabukach says:

        Wow. Powerful, haunting stuff, Kristy. Thank you for sharing.
        I will be in Hiroshima in a month, plan on doing some major reflecting while there.

  33. DesArtsUK says:

    Thank you for this post. It gives me a lot of ideas for potential pics, though admittedly on a different theme! In the time of digital photography, this gives some perspective as to what can be done without a computer…

    1. mabukach says:

      Great, Des. Thanks for reading, and than you for not dabbling with molecular splitting in your art. 🙂
      That’s my favorite part of the piece, and the reason I still have some old cameras laying around – you don’t need to do post work if you do it right.

  34. Honie Briggs says:

    I recently saw an interview with two of the engineers who helped create the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, N.M. Their photos of the test, like these you’ve shared here, were overwhelming in both powerful imagery and scope of destructive capability. It was interesting that they said many of the people working on that project had no idea what they were building. Nice post.

    1. mabukach says:

      Hey Honie! How have you been?
      Wow. Could you imagine not knowing you’re working on the most powerful, destructive force on the planet (outside of nature)?
      Crazy. Do you have links to the pics by chance? I’d be interested to see.

      1. Honie Briggs says:

        Hey Man! I have been super busy. Giving talks, taking classes, writing (procrastinating actually) and doing general chick type stuff. Yeah, as a matter of fact I can imagine it. (I worked for a Wall Street firm, ya know.)
        The Trinity Test photos I saw were taken by Jack Aeby, but here is one link:
        I’m sure if you Google Trinity Test or Manhattan Project there are others.

      2. mabukach says:

        Excellent. Good to hear you’ve been quite busy. What kind of talks do you do, if you don’t mind me asking.?

        Haha! A little secret – I worked for Lehman Brothers at one point in my career, so I understand completely.

        This is amazing. Now, I shall completely procrastinate over this….

      3. Honie Briggs says:

        Ah, good ole Dick Fuld and the house that greed built, I know it well!

        I deliver talks about gardening, composting, healthy food options for families and volunteerism. I posted the outline for a recent talk I gave for a local civic club about organic gardening. Stop by for a visit sometime while you’re out roaming around, would ya ~~

      4. mabukach says:

        Indeed, I blame my departure on their downfall. 🙂

        That’s awesome, Honie. Very much interested in the healthy food options. Will definitely stop by soon.

  35. Reblogged this on New American Gospel! and commented:
    — J.W.

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for the reblog, Jackson.

  36. drawandshoot says:

    Those are strangely beautiful images. They look very much like drawings. Fascinating post.

    1. mabukach says:

      Agree completely. Thank you, drawandshoot!

  37. I love this! Your writing is brilliant.

    feel free to take a look at my blog!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thank you Sean Maloney!

      Will check it out

  38. The pictures are raw and you’re right, sorta mesmerizing. I remember I found this poster when I was young that showed an H bomb exploding in the South Pacific. The dwarfed outer rings of the atoll with their puny trees had an effect on me. The joshua trees have that same sort of feel. Interesting post for sure.

    1. mabukach says:

      I know the image you’re talking about – definitely burnt into the ol’ memory bank. Thanks for reading, mflaherty!

  39. Stunning use of technology in a camera. Stunning photos – this is Armageddon, advancing towards us in one-millionth second steps. All of it, to me, further underscoring the truth behind Einstein’s aphorism – ‘atomic weapons have changed everything…except the way we think.’

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks so much for the interesting, profound commentary, Matthew. Very much appreciated.

  40. jimtgammill says:

    Awesome shots…
    Thanks for sharing!

  41. Alton Costa says:

    Amazing to say the least, thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for reading, Alton!

  42. Nice. Interesting photos. 🙂

  43. You were featured in Vsauce’s “Cruel Bombs” video:
    If you don’t know about that youtube channel it’s hands down the best science related youtube channel ever. I can’t even explain it.

    1. mabukach says:

      Amazing! I saw the spike in traffic this week. Very cool video. Thanks, Rorschach!

  44. Pingback: Cruel Bombs |
    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for the reblog!

    1. mabukach says:

      Thanks for the repost!

  45. Calkinsol says:

    Great, thanks for sharing this article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.

  46. Pingback: * Cruel Bombs *
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