When Worlds Collide, by Nalaka Gunawardene

Text of my ‘When Worlds Collide’ column published in Ceylon Today Sunday newspaper on 16 December 2012

“Did you hear about the man who lit a cigarette from a nuclear explosion?” Sir Arthur C Clarke was fond of asking his visitors some years ago.

The acclaimed science fiction writer and space visionary, whose 95th birth anniversary falls today (16 Dec 2012), loved to pose such baffling questions to visitors. He would gleefully volunteer the answer, and in that process, also share an interesting factoid.

In this instance, the answer was Theodore (Ted) Taylor (1925 – 2004), an American nuclear scientist who designed atomic weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. He apparently held up a small parabolic mirror during a nuclear test — the giant ‘fireball’ was 12 miles (19 km) away – which turned the focused light into heat.

“The moment I heard this, I wrote to Taylor, saying ‘Don’t…

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