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This strip is a common misconception. Yes, Fermi did one of his famous orders-of-magnitude calculations to see if the atmosphere would ignite, but it was followed up with very careful calculations afterward--prior to the a-bomb test. The probability of atmospheric ignition was on the order of the probability of causing an atomic blast by scratching your head.
Source: R.P. Feynman, Idiosyncratic Thinking, 1985
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Check out the alt text.
Long story short, he knows, he just thought he could make a funny joke out of playing with the situation of having to do such calculations.
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It's true that Bethe and Compton had worked out the numbers on fusion of nitrogen in the atmosphere a couple years earlier, but the possibility was just barely still live enough that Fermi included it in the betting pool he was running on the yield of the Trinity test. (Mostly as a joke, since of course in that eventuality, it would be rather difficult to collect the pool.)
And it's not like there weren't some catastrophic miscalculations in the early days of nuclear weapons. Just look at Heisenberg's miscalculation of the critical mass, or the multiple miscalculations that made the Castle Bravo test such a disaster.
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The definitive reading material on this subject is, of course, "Ignition of the atmosphere with nuclear bombs", by Teller, Konopinski and Marvin.http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lan ... 329010.pdf
This was researched, checked, and published well before the Trinity test in 1945, although not declassified until a good while later.
...suffer from the computer disease that anybody who works with computers now knows about. It's a very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. The trouble with computers is you play with them. They are so wonderful. - Richard Feynman
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