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Shake, Rattle, and Roll Los Alamos scientists analyze North Korea’s recent “hydrogen bomb” test to determine the details—location, yield, and type—of the explosion. Around 10 a.m. Pyongyang Time on Wednesday, January 6, 2016, seismic analysts around the world picked up something unusual—a 5.1-magnitude seismic event in the northeast corner of North Korea. Earthquakes of this size aren’t common on the Korean Peninsula, which likely meant the violent shaking was caused by something else: an explosion. weapon? In the case of the January 6 seismic event, North Korea immediately attributed the tremors to a subterranean hydrogen bomb test. H-bombs, which use nuclear fusion to release explosive energy, are potentially more than 500 times more powerful than the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. Enter Los Alamos National Laboratory. Does North Korea really have the capabilities to develop and test such a powerful weapon? Is its claim valid? Immediately upon receiving news of the explosion, Los Alamos scientists began working—and they continue to work—to determine information about the bomb tested. Los Alamos isn’t just in the business of developing, testing, and maintaining explosives. A significant part of the Laboratory’s mission is to evaluate global seismic data to identify and locate possible nuclear explosions. For example, a country might hope its underground containment of a nuclear test goes unnoticed because the rest of the world thinks the resulting seismic event is an earthquake. In the interest of national security and global nuclear threat monitoring, Los Alamos scientists have developed the tools to differentiate between the two. But what happens when there’s no need to differentiate? What happens when a country blatantly declares it tested a nuclear Los Alamos has approximately 70 experts, organized into teams, who work full time to provide near real-time analysis and assessment of all foreign nuclear weapons programs and tests. For example, the Ground-based Nuclear Detonation Detection (GNDD) team, comprising scientists from the Lab’s Earth and Environmental Sciences division, look in the atmosphere, oceans, and underground to analyze explosions. South Korean protesters burned placards of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un during an anti-North Korea rally on January 7, 2016, in Seoul, South Korea. Kim Jong-Un claimed that North Korea had successfully tested a “hydrogen bomb” the previous day. (Photo: Getty Images) 20 Los Alamos National Laboratory