The Nazi Sun Gun: Death from Above?

Nazi Germany created many unusual, horrific weapons during World War II. One incredible weapon, however, failed to materialize. What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?

What was the Nazi Sun Gun?
Description: “Hermann Oberth presents the Hermann Oberth award to Dr. Wernher von Braun at a banquet hosted by the Alabama Section of the American Rocket Society (October 19, 1961).”
Attribution: NASA
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Birth of the Nazi Sun Gun?

In 1929, a German physicist named Hermann Oberth wrote Wege zur Raumschiffahrt (Translation: Ways to Spaceflight). The book described Oberth’s vision of a manned orbital space station created from prefabricated parts. He also described a way to create electricity using a 100-meter wide concave mirror. The idea was to concentrate sunlight onto a single area and use steam turbines to convert the heat energy.

While Oberth’s mirror was designed to create useful energy, Nazi scientists saw another use for it. Namely, an orbital weapon called Sonnengewehr…or Sun Gun.

Launching the Sun Gun into Space

Plans for the Sun Gun were worked out by Nazi scientists at Hillersleben. They proposed creating a giant three-kilometer square mirror out of metallic sodium. Then they wanted to break it apart and launch the individual pieces into an orbit of 8,200 kilometers. In order to do this, the Nazi scientists hoped to use the Aggregate A11.

The A11 was a multistage rocket intended to deliver people and/or small payloads into low Earth orbit. At the time, it was being designed by Wernher von Braun (who later became chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle via Operation Paperclip, which helped land Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on the moon).

Oberth’s original plan was to send an unmanned rocket into space, containing six long cables. These cables would then unreel themselves, eventually covering a vast area. Nazi astronauts would then fly into space and attach pieces of the giant movable mirror to the cables.

How did the Sun Gun Work?

According to Life, Nazi astronauts would live inside the rocket, using large greenhouses to maintain fresh oxygen. They would remain in space, waiting for orders from radio or wireless telegraph. Upon receiving orders to attack, they would use rocket thrusters to move the mirror into position. The mirror would focus the sunlight, causing incredible devastation in the process.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Fortunately, the Sun Gun never went past the theoretical stage. In fact, newspaper articles from 1945 say it would’ve taken 50 to 100 years to harness the sun’s energy in this fashion. However, Oberth disagreed, claiming it would take just 10 to 15 years. Oberth admitted the original mirror’s design might not have worked. However, he came to believe that a larger mirror would’ve done the trick.

“If the mirror were double the size mentioned, however, the irradiation would be four times as strong, and so on. The temperature on the surface irradiated by the double-sized mirror would be 200° C (392° F).” – Hermann Oberth, Man into Space (1957)

Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. So, 392 degrees would’ve been plenty hot…perhaps hot enough to change the course of the war itself.

The Sound of a Nuclear Bomb?

On March 17, 1953, the U.S. military detonated an experimental nuclear weapons test. This test, part of Operation Upshot-Knothole, was designed to calm public fears about such weapons. The raw footage of this test was recently discovered. What does a nuclear weapons test sound like?

What was the Operation Upshot-Knothole Nuclear Weapons Test?

Operation Upshot Knothole was a series of 11 nuclear weapons tests conducted in Nevada during 1953. The March 17, 1953 test was called Annie. It was an “open shot” test, meaning reporters were allowed to view it. The purpose was to “calm public fears about weapon testing.”A secondary purpose was to study the effect of a nuclear blast on houses, cars, and bomb shelters. Researchers concluded people inside a car with open windows could survive if they were at least ten blocks from ground zero. They also decided a basement could protect people at 3,500 feet while the home itself could remain standing at 7,500 feet (assuming no flames).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

You’ve probably seen videos of nuclear weapons tests in the past. Most of those are dubbed, probably with stock footage, so the detonation and its resulting noise occur at the same time.However, the speed of light travels at 671 million miles per hour. The speed of sound is much slower, just 768 miles per hour. Thus, we would expect to see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion well before we actually hear it.

The video below comes from the National Archives. It’s the raw footage of the 1953 Annie test and was filmed about 7 miles away from the detonation. The explosion takes place at 2:37. You can see the mushroom cloud starting at 2:42. The sound doesn’t appear until 3:09, a full 32 seconds after the initial white light.

“The audio is what makes this great. Put on some headphones and listen to it all the way through — it’s much more intimate than any other test film I’ve seen. You get a much better sense of what these things must have been like, on the ground, as an observer, than from your standard montage of blasts. Murmurs in anticipation; the slow countdown over a megaphone; the reaction at the flash of the bomb; and finally — a sharp bang, followed by a long, thundering growl. That’s the sound of the bomb.” ~ Alex Wellerstein, The Sound of the Bomb (1953)

Telepathic Soldiers?

Not to be outdone by DARPA’s never-ending list of sci-fi projects, the U.S. Army has decided to step up its game. In the next five years, it plans to spend $4 million in taxpayer funds in order to develop real-life telepathy.

Synthetic Telepathy?

The U.S. Army’s version of telepathy is called Synthetic Telepathy. It bears some resemblance to the style of telepathy seen in the popular Metal Gear Solid 4 video game. But where Metal Gear relied on nanotechnology, this real-world telepathy relies on mind-reading.

Here’s how it works. Soldiers wear helmets containing electrodes. The electrodes read electrical activity in the brain and identify code words. Those code words are then relayed back to a central computer before being dished out to other soldiers in the field. Currently, computers are able to identify 45% of the code words. By 2017, the U.S. Army hopes that number will be closer to 100%.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Incidentally, this project first received funding back in 2008. At the time, researchers estimated Synthetic Telepathy would take 15-20 years to develop. It appears they’ve progressed fast enough to shave 6-11 years from that original mark.

At least some soldiers seem pleased by the development. On the other end of the spectrum, civil libertarians are worried about how it could be used by governments against their own citizens. It’s difficult to say exactly how this new telepathy technology will impact our lives. But one thing seems certain. Synthetic Telepathy is coming…and it’s coming quickly.

America’s Heat Gun?

The other day, the U.S. military unveiled the newest weapon in its arsenal…Active Denial System. The Active Denial System emits invisible electromagnetic beams of intense heat, intended to disperse unruly crowds. In other words, it’s a massive heat gun.

The Active Denial System: America’s Heat Gun?

The Active Denial System heat gun is a nonlethal weapon. It’s mounted onto vehicles and used for crowd control purposes.

“You’re not going to see it, you’re not going to hear it, you’re not going to smell it. You’re going to feel it.” ~ Marine Colonel Tracy Tafolla

Supposedly, the Active Denial System heat gun doesn’t cause “cancer, or fertility problems, or birth defects.” And it’s being touted as a safe alternative to traditional crowd dispersal tactics like rubber bullets and pepper spray. That might be the case…unless, of course, something goes wrong and the heat gun burns the crowd to a crisp.

The Pentagon hasn’t placed any orders yet for the Active Denial System heat gun but expect to see it on the battlefield sometime soon. After that, it’s only a matter of time before the heat gun gets rolled out to police forces across the nation…

DARPA’s Real-Life Transformer?

DARPA-employed researchers are at it again. A few months back, they were trying to predict future crimes. Then they were building invisibility cloaks and creating battlefield illusions. Now, they’ve created a robotic Cheetah capable of running at 18mph, making it the “fastest legged robot” in history.

The DARPA Cheetah: A Real-Life Transformer?

Of course, Cheetah would get crushed in a race against a real cheetah, some of which can reach 70 mph over short distances. Still, 18 mph is more than enough to destroy the old robotic record of 13.1 mph, set by an MIT robot named Planar Biped back in 1989.

Eventually, researchers hope to get the prototype up to 20-30 mph. If it reaches the latter, it’ll pass another milestone, officially becoming faster than any living human (Usain Bolt reached 27.45 mph in a 100 meter race back in 2009). Science fiction has long predicted the rise of mecha warriors. It would appear we are drawing very close to the day when that fiction will become a reality.

Real Life Battlefield Illusions?

Those wacky folks at DARPA are at it again.

DARPA & Real Life Battlefield Illusions?

Not satisfied with creating invisibility cloaks or predicting future crimes, DARPA has turned its attention to a new project called “Battlefield Illusion.” The idea is to create hallucinations during military engagements that “manage the adversary’s sensory perception.” Here’s more on the latest DARPA project from Wired:

Arthur C. Clarke once famously quipped that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So perhaps it was inevitable that the Pentagon’s extreme technology arm would eventually start acting like magicians — and try to create illusions on the front lines.

In its new budget, unveiled on Monday, Darpa introduced a new $4 million investigation into technologies that will “manage the adversary’s sensory perception” in order to “confuse, delay, inhibit, or misdirect [his] actions.” Darpa calls the project “Battlefield Illusion.” Of course.

“The current operational art of human-sensory battlefield deception is largely an ad-hoc practice,” the agency sighs as it lays out the project’s goals. But if researchers can better understand “how humans use their brains to process sensory inputs,” the military should be able to develop “auditory and visual” hallucinations that will “provide tactical advantage for our forces.”

(See Darpa’s Magic Plan: ‘Battlefield Illusions’ to Mess With Enemy Minds for the rest)

A Bullet…that Steers Itself?

The world is full of strange “future weapons.” But is it ready for self-steering bullets, capable of hitting targets over a mile away?

Future Weapons: A Bullet that Steers Itself?

So, what kind of future weapons is the world ready for? Is it ready for self-steering bullets, capable of hitting targets over a mile away? The military and Lockheed Martin seem to think so. Apparently, this new “future weapon” could be used to “minimize civilian casualties.” Unless, of course, civilians happen to be the targets in the first place. Here’s more on this strange new “future weapon” from BBC News:

A self-guiding bullet that can steer itself towards its target is being developed for use by the US military. The bullet uses tiny fins to correct the course of its flight allowing it to hit laser-illuminated targets.

It is designed to be capable of hitting objects at distances of about 2km (1.24 miles). Work on a prototype suggests that accuracy is best at longer ranges. A think tank says the tech is well-suited to snipers, but worries about it being marketed to the public…

(See the rest on this “future weapon” at BBC News)


Will soldiers of the future eschew bulletproof vests for bulletproof skin?

Will Soldiers of the Future have Bulletproof Skin?

By integrating spider silk into human skin cells, researchers have developed human tissue that can withstand a bullet (okay, a bullet fired at half-speed). Still, it’s a pretty impressive achievement. Here’s more on this new bulletproof skin from New Scientist:

What if your skin could resist a speeding bullet? Now a new futuristic tissue designed by artist Jalila Essaïdi, which reinforces human skin cells with spider silk, can stop a whizzing projectile without being pierced. Although its threads may look fragile, a spider-silk weave is four times stronger than Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.

…But its resistance has its limits: when shot at a full speed of 329 m/s, the bullet pierces the material and travels through it.

(See more on bulletproof skin at New Scientist)

What was Greek Fire?

In 672 AD, Theophanes the Confessor reported that “Kallinikos, an artificer from Heliopolis…had devised a sea fire which ignited the Arab ships and burned them with all hands. Thus it was that the Romans returned with victory and discovered the sea fire.” What was this strange Greek fire?

What was Greek Fire?

Greek fire was an ancient incendiary weapon of mass destruction. In the hands of the Byzantine Empire, it was a terrifying force. Greek fire differed from other similar weapons in history in four curious ways. First, it burned continuously, even underwater. Second, it consisted of a liquid substance. Third, it was propelled through the air via pressurized siphons (see picture above). And fourth, when used in battle, it was accompanied by “thunder” and “smoke.”

The exact formula for this strange weapon was a closely guarded secret and has since been lost to time. One 11th century scholar, George Kedrenos, speculated that the family of Kallinikos kept the formula a secret for centuries, even up until his time. Regardless, modern researchers speculate that possible ingredients might’ve included sulphur, naphtha, petroleum, quicklime, or phosphorous. In his article, Greek Fire: The Best Kept Secret of the Ancient World, 1LT Richard Groller makes an interesting case for petroleum.

“It is very probable then, that the basis of the earliest Greek fire was liquid rectified petroleum or volatile petrol. Petrol itself would not be very effective in flame-projectors since the projected jet dissipates too rapidly. But thickened almost to a jelly by dissolving in it resinous substances and/or sulphur the particular admixture, coupled with the mechanical means of projecting it, together constituted a great achievement of chemical engineering.” ~ 1LT Richard Groller

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Like all weapons, Greek fire had its limitations. It exhibited limited range and enemy vessels soon learned to keep their distance from it. Also, heavy winds and other conditions limited its effectiveness while causing serious safety problems for its users. Still, for a short period of time, Greek fire was the most terrifying and devastating weapon known to man.

The Nth Country Experiment?

In 1964, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted a top-secret experiment with enormous global ramifications. The project remained classified until 2003 when heavily-excised documents were finally released to the public. What was the Nth Country Experiment?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 16 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Nth Country Experiment?

In May 1964, the Livermore Radiation Laboratory offered a special assignment to a man named Bob Selden. It was the culmination of a strange couple of days that began when Selden – who held a PhD in physics – was interviewed by Edward Teller, the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb.” Teller grilled him on the physics of making nuclear weapons, a topic of which Selden knew little.

The assignment? Selden was tasked with developing a working nuclear weapon design using nothing more than publicly-available information.

“The goal of the participants should be to design an explosive with a militarily significant yield. A working context for the experiment might be that the participants have been asked to design a nuclear explosive which, if built in small numbers, would give a small nation a significant effect on their foreign relations.” ~ Summary Report of the Nth Country Experiment

At that time, only four countries knew how to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. was the 1st country to achieve this feat, the USSR was the 2nd, the UK was the 3rd, and France was the 4th. That begged the question: How difficult would it be for the “Nth country” to follow suit?

Could the “Nth Country” develop Nuclear Weapons?

Selden was brought into the already-existing project to replace David Pipkorn. He joined Dave Dobson and the two men got to work. According to a 2003 article on the subject from the Guardian, it was an uphill battle from the start:

“Dobson’s knowledge of nuclear bombs was rudimentary, to say the least. ‘I just had the idea that [to make a bomb] you had to quickly put a bunch of fissile material together somehow,’ he recalls.” ~ Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

Two and a half years later, in late 1966, Dobson and Selden ceased work. They’d developed a design for an implosion-style atomic bomb, similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki. Interestingly enough, much of the information they’d used came as a result of Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, which “propelled a huge amount of technical detail into the public domain.”

“We produced a short document that described precisely, in engineering terms, what we proposed to build and what materials were involved. The whole works, in great detail, so that this thing could have been made by Joe’s Machine Shop downtown.” ~ Bob Selden

For two weeks, the two men heard nothing about the success of the Nth Country Experiment. Instead, they were sent to defense and scientific agencies to give lectures on their results. But eventually, they learned that they’d succeeded in creating a credible design for an atomic bomb.

The Nth Country Experiment’s Influence on Chaos?

The Nth Country project officially ended on April 10, 1967. Prior to the Nth Country Experiment, “there were two schools of thought [in regard to nuclear weapons] – that the ideas could be kept secret, and that the material could be locked up.” But Dobson and Selden proved that the ideas were easily accessible to any country that employed reasonably intelligent physicists. Thus, nuclear proliferation efforts became focused on keeping the materials, namely uranium and plutonium, under tight wraps.

I love history and bits and pieces of it are scattered throughout the plot of Chaos. This is the case for the Nth Country Experiment. While it doesn’t play a gigantic role, its implications are daunting…(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

Chase ignored me. “Theoretically, it’s not difficult to build a nuclear weapon. The U.S. Army proved that in 1964. They secretly hired two physics professors to design an atomic bomb using only public information. In just two years, those professors had developed the blueprints for a Hiroshima-sized weapon that could be built in a normal machine shop.”

His eyes tensed. Then, his hand reached to his collar and scratched his neck. I caught a glimpse of a large ugly welt underneath his shirt’s fine fabric.

“Just blueprints?” I asked.

“Even with a working design, an atomic bomb was out of their reach. They lacked the appropriate fissionable materials. Specifically, Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239. That’s the secret of non-proliferation efforts. While the knowledge to build a bomb is available, the materials are nearly impossible to procure. Red Mercury will change that.”

“And in the process, put nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.” I shook my head. “Are you crazy?” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerMoments afterward, all hell breaks loose as Cy launches a daring counterattack. If you want to know what happens next, treat yourself to a copy of Chaos today.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to examine one of the most explosive controversies in history. Were the atomic bombs dropped on Japan really necessary? Or was their an ulterior motive behind their deployment? Stop by tomorrow to weigh in on the debate…I hope to see you then!


Chaos Book Club