This was the most powerful explosion ever . . . by a lot
Model of the Tsar Bomba in the Sarov atomic bomb museum. Photo by Croquant
Russia's Tsar Bomba is the single most physically powerful man-made explosion in human history. And it will probably remain that way forever.
On October 30, 1961, at 11:32 Moscow time, the 50 megaton behemoth detonated over the Mityushikha Bay nuclear testing range above the Arctic Circle. By comparison, the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the U.S. was the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954, which yielded the same energy as 15 megatons of TNT. The blast produced by the Tsar Bomba is the equivalent to about 1,350 - 1,570 times the combined energy of the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to John D. Bankston in his book "Invisible Enemies of Atomic Veterans and How They Were Betrayed."
Or as the Discovery Channel video below puts it, "It contained the equivalent of 58 million tons of TNT or all the explosives used in World War II, multiplied by ten."
A Russian Tu-95 Bear 'H' photographed from a RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert aircraft (QRA) with 6 Squadron from RAF Leuchars in Scotland. Photo by Ministry of Defense
The explosion was so powerful that the modified Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bomber—Russia's version of the B-52—was almost knocked out of the sky. The mushroom cloud it produced was about 40 miles high, over seven times the height of Mount Everest.
The bomb destroyed all the buildings in a village 34 miles away from ground zero and broke windows in Norway and Finland. The explosion's heat caused third-degree burns on people 62 miles away. One test participant saw the flash through his dark goggles and felt the bomb's pulse 170 miles away. The bomb's shock wave was observed 430 miles from the ground zero, and its seismic activity was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.
This Discovery Channel video shows rare footage of the Tsar Bomba's detonation: