How would Indy die? Let us count the ways.
I. Ways mechanical.
Crushed under the shockwave. The calculated minimal 2.9 MPa pressure required to accelerate Indy’s ‘fridge to the same speed as the advancing nuclear shockwave is nearly 47 times greater than the pressure (~62 kPa) required to liberate a railway car from its track and crush it. Indeed, after the wave has expanded beyond the limits of the mock city, it still retains enough power to instantaneously crush the Soviets’ [1950 Studebaker Commander]. While the reviewers have not themselves empirically derived a stress-strain curve for a 1957 lead-lined Frigidaire refrigerator, we believe it’s a reasonable assumption that such pressure would be sufficient to obliterate the device, rather than lifting it.
Lethal acceleration. 2,605,760 Newtons acting on a 170 kg mass would correspond to roughly 1560 G‘s worth of force, just shy of that required to ballistically launch a person into space. Now, while the world-record acceleration survived by a human in the laboratory is 42 G’s, we cannot conclusively state that this incredible force would be lethal, since it’s never been directly tested. Moreover, the outcome is dependent on the direction Indy’s facing–relative to the oncoming wave–at the point of impact. If he’s being pushed from his back or side, he’d almost certainly suffer massive bone damage, but might survive long enough to die of internal bleeding. If he’s being pushed from below he would absolutely be killed by his body’s entire reservoir of blood being pulled into one of his extremae. From the clip it appears that he’s standing up at the point of impact, and so this is likely not a worry. That is, if one considers having all of his ribs shattered into his chest cavity, and his circulatory system shedding multiple thromboses to “not be a worry.”
One last crack of Indy’s whip. While the above calculations treat Dr. Jones and his flying coffin as a single rigid object, the human body is, in fact, horrifyingly malleable. The most obvious point of potentially lethal force is the neck, wherein rapid acceleration might rotate the hinge point beyond its acceptable operating range, or apply a torque that rips it apart. Interestingly, the data on such fatal whiplash appear essentially nonexistent. However, since many events that could potentially induce such trauma (car accidents, falls, head-slappings from being forced to edit Indiana Jones IV, etc…) also expose the body to other fatal forces, its possible that lethal whiplash has been misdiagnosed as an alternative cause of death. Still, the probability of Indy’s neck snapping due to acceleration, or of his suffering a fatal head injury due to an impact with the refrigerator’s lining, are difficult to assess.
Crushed on reentry. As stated above, it’s difficult to assess exactly how high the explosion appears to lift Indy’s ‘fridge above the ground, but we do witness it returning to earth in a series of improbably gentle bounces. Exactly how much force would Indy experience as he plummeted back to earth inside a lead-lined steel box? Well, assuming the expansion wave is not actively propelling Indy back to earth, we can assume that the only force bringing him downward is that due to gravity. Ignoring now his horizontal motion, we can calculate his vertical speed at point of impact using the conservation of energy: his potential energy at the height of his arc ( = (mass)•(height)•(g), where g is the rate of acceleration due to gravity near the earth’s surface, ~9.81 m/s²) equals the kinetic energy at the moment just prior to impact ( = (1/2)•(mass)•(velocity)²). Hence, v = √(2g•h), approximately 4.43•√h [thanks for pointing out the original math error, Bunsen and Megatoerist]. Correspondingly, his momentum is (m•v) = ~4.43m•√h. Now, if he were to hit the ground and stop moving, the magnitude change in momentum during impact (his Impulse, I) would be ~4.43m•√h. Since velocity is a vector quantity, if he were to bounce back with the exact same vertical velocity but in the opposite direction, this change in momentum would be ~8.86m•h, thus putting an envelope of the impact force felt, omitting entirely the horizontal component of his trajectory, as 4.43m•√h < I < 8.83m•√h. If the whole impact takes ~0.1 seconds, then the force felt is 44.3m•h < F < 88.3m•h. Recalling his mass is ~170 kg, we obtain 7,531•√h < F < 15,062•√h or between 18.8 and 37.6 Fenzel-mass-equivalents at a height of just one meter. For example, if he drops from 10 meters and loses 30% of his vertical momentum upon bouncing, it’ll be like having 50.5 Pete Fenzels instantaneously sitting on him [note corrected math – Ed], not taking into account his loss of forward momentum. As calculated above, this corresponds to ~46 kPa of pressure, near that required to upend and obliterate a railway car.
Of course, the authors may argue that the refrigerator will act as a protective shield that absorbs the force of impact. This is fundamentally flawed logic, as illustrated by the utility of automotive crumple zones. Still, if the authors protest, this reviewer invites them to fill a Pringles can with eggs and drop it off of their roof.
II. Ways thermal.
During the nuclear fission processs of an atomic explosion matter is directly converted into energy, of which a substantial portion is in the form of x-rays. These generate a massive fireball that heats the surrounding air to almost surreal heights (e.g. a multi-stage Teller-Ulam-type thermonuclear device–of a power exceeding the present case–can attain temperatures exceeding those at the center of the sun). Now, calculating the heat transferred to Dr. Jones is a calculation exceeding this reviewer’s skills. However, we observe that the air surrounding Indy becomes hot enough to cause spontaneous combustion of the mannequin test dolls, and infer that the air temperature must therefore exceed the autoignition temperature of paper, somewhere between 220–450°C (424–842°F). This makes possible multiple potentially fatal factors:
Scorched by molten lead. Implicit in their implementation of this sequence is the authors’ belief that Indy’s survival is dependent on his encasement within the lead-lined refrigerator. However, this device itself may present additional dangers beyond those directly related to the atomic blast. To wit, the melting temperature of lead is a paltry 327.46°C, potentially below the external temperature. Now, liquifying lead requires enough energy to overcome its heat of fusion, and the time required to impart this energy. Observing the clip, we can only conclude that the air temperature exceeds lead’s melting temperature for a fraction of a second (and likely never reaches stainless steel’s melting temperature of >1500°C) though the ensuing nuclear furnace is probably warmer than a balmy Nevada afternoon. Temperatures near ground zero of the Hiroshima blast, for example, incinerated essentially any object that could be burned; the ensuing fireball ignited and consumed a substantially larger area. Hence, while it seems unlikely that Indy would find himself drowning in a pool of molten lead, it’s highly likely that the integrity of the lead lining would become severely compromised.
Scorched by incendiary air. Impressive a thermal container as a 1957 Frigidaire is, exposure to a near-range atomic detonation is likely to scuff it up a bit. Cracks in the metal exterior, incineration of the rubber gasket, etc would expose Indy to the external elements. “The elements,” in this case, being “Super-heated Plutonium” and the like. Hopefully, even the authors can acknowledge that even moderate exposure to temperatures generated by a nuclear fireball are likely to incur severe burns. According to this report, even a 1.6 second exposure to 450°C air can result in second degree burns to the skin; temperatures above 560°C will induce burns in under 0.6 seconds, faster than a human’s reflexive response time. Moreover, the effects of breathing superheated air would be even more disastrous, resulting in immediate and irreversible damage to Indy’s throat and lungs.
Baked Indiana. For the complete duration of the time Dr. Jones’ ‘fridge spends in mechanical contact with the expanding nuclear shockwave (we estimate ~30 seconds, allowing for some slop due to montage editing), it’s also in thermal contact with it. Even if the device’s steel shell is never heated to its melting point, it will be substantially heated, and all objects in contact with it (e.g., Dr. Jones’ body) stand the risk of contact burns. As the refrigerator tumbles through the advancing radioactive plume, the air inside it will also be heated, ultimately producing an internal environment more reminiscent of an oven than an ice box.
III. Ways aerodynamic.
Suffocation–conventional. The previous scientific literature (see Brewster, Punky et al (1986)) has already dealt with the dangers of asphyxiation from encasing oneself within a refrigerator, and the topic will not be discussed further here.
Suffocation–less-than-conventional. As an atomic explosion develops into its aforementioned fireball, it also appears to color the surrounding sky a tarry orange-brown, an event portrayed in the present work with, well, shocking accuracy. Perhaps the authors need be reminded that this tawny hue is the result of the bomb igniting the local atmosphere, burning nitrogen gas and consuming the local oxygen supply. A mushroom cloud’s “stem,” is also the product of this phenomenon, as soot and debris are caught by the influx of air and carried into the rising plume. Now, assuming that Indiana’s refrigerator has suffered sufficient structural damage as to allow some gas exchange with the outside, Indy might find himself under substantial negative atmospheric pressure, his oxygen being sucked from the ‘fridge’s interior and consumed by the nearby atomic furnace. Absurd as this might seem, it’s not without precedent, even for cases of non-atomic blasts. It’s rumored that during the firebombing of Dresden, nearby village barns and cottages were sucked into the fireball by the inrush of air. Of course, this phenomenon also implies an additional fatal threat…
There and back again. As the atomic fireball develops and consumes its massive influx of oxygen, it generates a kind of “reverse blast wind,” several seconds after its initial outward shock wave. The government has studied these effects in great detail, as illustrated by the synthetic forest in the following nuclear test footage. Observe, your tax dollars at work:
The reviewers remain extremely dubious as to Indy’s ability to ride out on the bomb’s initial shock wave. However, even accepting this unlikely scenario, depending on the intensity of the ensuing firestorm and the distance he’s landed away from Ground Zero, Indy may very well be sucked back in to the explosion. And that is a place not even Kali can tolerate.
IV. Ways radioactive.
Death by X-rays, X-cetera. Depending on the construction of the bomb and the manner of its deployment, approximately 5% of its energy output is in the form of ionizing radiation, i.e. radiation that has the ability to strip an electron from its orbit around an atom, and induce chemical changes in matter. Indy’s calculated distance of <<0.6 km from a 10–44 kT atomic device puts him well within the zone wherein he’d receive an acute lethal dose of ionizing radiation from the blast. He is, however, encased in a lead-lined refrigerator, which would provide some shielding from the massive onslaught of radioactivity. However, the efficacy of this shielding is questionable, since (1) lead shielding is all but useless against neutron radiation, potentially a substantial component of the radioactive flux, (2) the shielding’s effectiveness is proportional to its thickness: a full centimeter is required to reduce gamma radiation to half its initial intensity, ~3.3 cm are required to reduce it to 10% the initial flux and ~6.6 cm are required to drop the flux below 1% [Note the corrected math – see the comments section for this calculation. Thanks, Bunsen! -Ed], and (3) much of the lead shielding has probably been converted into a molten pool slogging inside the ‘fridge’s lining anyway (see above). Even if Indy manages to avoid receiving the acute lethal dose, he’ll almost certainly experience a host of perfectly horrific alternative effects. The reviewer has created a diagram that will summarize his appearance after these effects have taken their toll:
Fallout boy. Atomic detonations disperse the products of their own nuclear fissile fuel into the environment, and moreover generate a tremendous flux of neutron, gamma- and x-ray radation, which collectively have the ability to generate de novo radioactive waste from previously stable matter. This explains why, for example, a few kg of Plutonium and Lithium Deuteride can result one of the most massive fallout contamination events in human history. Now, after Indy waltzes away from his afternoon stroll in an atomic firestorm, he does take a shower, which can be a surprisingly effective way to remove superficial radioactive contamination (interested readers may inquire the reviewer as to a time he witnessed several micro-Curies of radioactive sulfur being removed from a coworker’s nether regions). However, we must again note that Dr. Jones’ refrigerator is likely to suffer substantial damage during its atomic shockwave jamboree, and that his air supply may co-mingle with the external environment. This increases the likelihood that Indy inhales particles of nuclear fallout, thereby exposing his throat and lungs to ionizing radiation and almost certainly sealing his fate. Come to think of it, hanging out for a few minutes to bask in the mushroom cloud’s radioactive glow is probably a lousy idea, too.
Shielding, “shmielding”. Sadly, the lead and steel shielding which the authors intend to protect their protagonist from ionizing radiation can itself become a source of it. While beta decay constitutes a relatively small portion of the average nuclear device’s output, what little sprinkle the Frigidaire receives it will transmute, in kind, into an X-ray bath for its inhabitant. It’s sort of like the way a Russian Sauna works, but instead of hot coals there’s a nuclear explosion, and instead of steam there’s a burst of X-rays, and instead of a wood hut it’s a Frigidaire, and also you’re dead.
In conclusion, we estimate the odds of surviving a nuclear blast in the manner depicted here to be roughly 0±0%. We invite the authors to try to address these issues, but cannot conceive of a means to do so without completely rewriting the piece. Perhaps re-releasing Raiders of the Lost Ark in 3D will suffice.
Thus concludes the (quasi)scientific portion of our proceedings. But really, what have we learned from all of this?