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Testing nuclear weapons is difficult on earth because of the large number of parties that want to prevent such tests from happening. Say that a country with a space program wants to test a nuclear weapon, perhaps for the first time, or more likely for the purpose of checking to see if their arsenal is still in good condition. They might get the idea of testing it on a distant celestial body, where nobody is watching for gamma ray bursts or unexpected seismic events.

What would be the best place to carry out this mission? It would ideally be somewhere that can be reached cheaply, along with being remote enough that a nuclear blast wouldn't be detected by today's spacecraft (for example, Mars is out, because InSight is now recording seismic data). It should also be somewhere that can be reached clandestinely, perhaps by arranging for a science mission to have a "mysterious failure."

Bear in mind that a big radioactive crater right where somebody's probe was supposed to land would draw a lot of suspicion if it were discovered. It is up to the reader to design their way out of that problem.

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    $\begingroup$ I feel like if you state what data needs to be gathered from the test it would also help answer. Are we testing an ability to nuke in general? Or are we testing that a nuke will cause X damage to a structure with at minimum Y physical properties. In general even asteroids that impact planets are not seen- and some of those have the force of hundreds of nukes. Recently an astronomer captured an impact on jupiter and with that resolution itd have to be ABSOLUTELY MONSTROUS. Easily bigger than a hundred nukes. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2019 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Honestly the problem with launching a nuke in general is not only are you testing that nuke- it could fail before leaving the atmosphere. Thats the main risk. You could get away with nuclear detonations nearly anywhere in space. Most countries would be way more mad about you lobbing a deadly payload into orbit over their land rather than that you tested it. Even RTGs are declined due to radioactive elements flying over countries though tjey arent inherently all that dangerous if prepped properly. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2019 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ Read up on Project Fishbowl to see the effects of close testing, that may give you some idea of the shielding or solid body you would need between the explosion and Earth. $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 6, 2019 at 13:37

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You obviously want plenty of rock or ice between the explosion and Earth. The optical and gamma ray flashes would be easily detected by existing space probes (there are enough gamma ray telescopes orbiting the Earth that it would be very hard if not impossible to be on the other side of Earth from all of them.

This points to what is surely the most reliable solution, but not the cheapest -- just drill reasonably deep inside any solid body that doesn't have a probe very close to it -- most asteroids, Mercury, Venus or the outer moons of Jupiter would probably be fine. Then you do an underground test, just like on Earth.

If you want to save money and not drill then you would also need to be careful about optical/IR/UV/X-ray telescopes, but they are mostly fairly directional, so it's probably enough to just not be too close to any of them (which basically rules out Earth orbit, Mars orbit, low Jupiter orbit and a few scattered spots in deep space) or too close to anything they are likely to be looking at. One approach would be to pick a moment when Earth and Mars are on the same side of the Sun and then set it off on the back of an asteroid or comet on the other side of the Sun (but not too close to the Sun, so that probes like SOHO and STEREO don't notice it). You need a reasonably large asteroid, so that you don't change its orbit enough to be noticed.

A radically different option might be the surface of Venus on the side facing away from Earth. It's possible the shock waves would noticeably distort the clouds, but otherwise you are pretty safe.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the Venus approach. I think the clouds are pretty dense and featureless in visible light. The problem with picking a planet with an atmosphere is that it can produce an EMP, but I don't think that will be much of a problem. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 6, 2019 at 14:28
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The other answers are making it way too hard. Lunar orbit. Detonate in the middle of farside, time it such that there's nobody else's probe on the farside at the time. (The moon doesn't get many missions, this would certainly be possible) and in an orbit nowhere near any other probe.

Since it's in orbit you won't leave a crater, period. Also, detach the warhead before doing a burn, the probe survives so you don't even have the loss of the probe to link you to it if something is observed.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a pretty cool answer! It also caused me to ask Did nuclear explosions in space produce any chunks of debris, or did they completely self-vaporize? If the weapon plus associated electronics or whatever was say 100 kg, then there's still 99.9999 kg of nuclei, electrons, dust, plasma, and whatever, and some of it will hit the moon and possibly raise a secondary dust cloud. I guess we can assume though that very little of the primary explosion would be slow enough to enter lunar orbit. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 7, 2019 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh Particles hitting the moon won't raise a dust cloud and even if they did the dust just falls right back, there's no air for it to stay in. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2019 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Chang'e 4 is dead then unfortunately :(. China may be confused. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2019 at 18:53
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Behind the Sun.

What I mean is this sort of linear arrangement:

(Bomb) --- (Sun) --- (Earth)

This makes a good hiding spot because anyone on or near Earth is just going to see the Sun. Any signal from the blast is going to either be absorbed by the Sun or otherwise lost in its noise.

It's also not particularly hard to get to; every body in orbit with the Sun will eventually get into this configuration, if you're patient enough. But it's not hard to get there on even human timescales.

The only thing that might catch you is a satellite already deployed over there. I'm not sure if we have any over there right now or not, or if we have any plans for something like that.

Or a distant satellite well out of the plane of the ecliptic might catch it too, but I feel more confident about saying we don't have any of those in flight.

There's also a slight risk introduced during the Mars-Sol conjuction:

(Mars) --- (Bomb) --- (Sun) --- (Earth)

But as far as I know most of the sensors on Mars are interested in looking down and around at Mars, not up at the Sun. I think you'd be okay. Or you could pick a different time to execute your test, if you're worried about it.

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    $\begingroup$ Stereo A may have line of sight to far side of the sun en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STEREO. Actually unlikely to have sensors working in the Earth opposing region though since most of them are sun focused. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2019 at 23:47

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