As Livermore became involved in testing very high altitude nuclear explosions, (Orange and Teak 1958) we were surprised at some of the results. I was not there but those who were told the following story. They had an ample supply of cameras and film on ship to capture images from the ground of the after effects. The assumption was that the visible free electron effects would last less than a minute. 20 minutes later they were rummaging thru the personal belongings searching for more film for the continuing displays.

In retrospect all was explained. Cosmic ray physicists had long computed the peculiar orbits of electrons in the Earth’s magnetic field. This was in connection of figuring out what direction the cosmic rays were really coming from. The explosions (at 250,000 feet) had freed electrons into some orbits and the resulting Bremsstrahlung radiation was highly visible as their orbits decayed. When I heard about this I realized that the physics was easy. IBM had just delivered a CRT for the 704 that recorded images on film for graphic output. I wrote a one page Fortran program to plot stereo images of electrons moving in the Earth’s magnetic dipole field. I thought some orbits would alternate between North and South. They also migrated from East to West. The latter surprised me but I could find no bugs in my code. I ran in to tell the physicists (Harold Brown et al.), but they were already aware of that effect.

The 3D images were very effective. It might have been the first 3D computer graphics but I doubt it. Some were skeptical of the cost of doing graphics with expensive computers. This was an early example of the immediacy of learning about the physics from the math. I was certainly surprised and would probably not have noticed the anomoly from pages of printed numbers. Further, the film output was actually cheaper than the paper for printed output.