By Phil Plait | August 13, 2008 4:00 pm

Well, this one is original, I’ll give it that…

I got an interesting email from French BABloggee Pierre Joliveau. His father worked on some nuclear tests in French Polynesia back in the 1950s, and took some amazing photographs of the explosions.

Julian pointed this one out in particular:

It’s hard to spot the pareidolia, but he helpfully highlighted it:

Picture of Jesus in hydrogen bomb blast

Now isn’t it interesting that people went quite nuts over the face of Satan in the cloud of smoke from the WTC, but no one seems to have noticed this one? And you know what? This one is at least as good as the last few examples I’ve posted.

You should look at the other pictures in that set linked above, too. There is something eerie and beautiful and horrifying in those pictures. If you’ve ever watched Trinity and Beyond (also called The Atomic Bomb Movie) then you know what I mean.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pareidolia, Pretty pictures

Comments (93)

  1. Yay!

    Except that it was not in the 1950s, but in the 1970s :)

  2. davery

    Trinity and Beyond is a great doc. And it’s narrated by the Shatner.

  3. Ivan
  4. tacitus

    A side view of Jesus on the cross is what I see.

  5. tacitus

    Or, turned around, someone with arms lofted begging or praying.

  6. BoC

    I see a golfer during the back swing.

  7. Jon

    I don’t see anything, but by your leanings I assume it has something to do with Christianity.

    Jesus died for your fissions?

  8. Michelle

    I see a baseball batter!

  9. Blu-Ray-Ven

    i agree with BoC, when i saw it first i thought, tiger in a back swing with no club

  10. MPG

    I thought it looked like the Statue of Liberty, albeit missing her right arm. Curiously appropriate, as the Statue is French after all.

  11. JHill

    It’s Phelps diving into the pool for another gold! Amazing that the nuke predicted the awesome that is Michael Phelps, and equally amazing that it turned up during the Olympics!

  12. I’m with BoC – the first thing I saw was a golfer. Maybe it’s Jesus golfing.

  13. Grand Lunar

    I see a Spartan (not the Halo characters) preparing to swing his sword!

    I own Trinity and Beyond. Peter Kuran (who also worked in many films, like some of the Star Trek movies, Star Wars, The Thing, ect) really does a great job for the film.

    He’s made other films that tell various aspects of nuke testing.
    At the risk of being labeled a plug for him, I provide the names;
    Nukes In Space, Atomic Journeys, Nuclear 911, and Atomic Filmmakers.

    I wonder if he’ll consider a film on stars; they’re nukes too!

  14. I see a happy face there.

  15. Anton P. Nym

    Oh, great… now you know what the Weekly World News is going to run as their headline; “FRANCE NUKED JESUS!” (Me, I wouldn’t have seen it without the tracing… and the tracing looks like a volleyball bunt than anything else to me.)

    I have a very eroded copy of “Trinity” on VHS recorded from public television, and it does make for disturbingly fascinating viewing. Maybe I should get it on DVD now that I have a TV worth watching.

    — Steve

  16. mena

    I had to squint and move around a bit but the best that I could do with the picture that wasn’t enhanced is this.

  17. I’m sorry, but I do see squat. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. “I seeee no-sink!”

    Now does that mean I am rational, or just lack imagination? :-)

  18. I thought I saw something in the big mushroom cloud there – like an evil smiley… but I guess Phil wasn’t talking about that part.

  19. You know, as I look at thoes pictures on flickr, I remember what it was like as a teenager back in the 1980’s with the Reagan Era in full swing, and how how everybody dieing in a nuckear war wasn’t such an outlandish idea. Whether we were as close to oblivion as we some times feared, I don’t know, but just thinking about it gives me that cold feeling in the pit of my stomach just like it did back then when we wondered what the future held for us after high school – a family like our parents raised, or a Cantuicle for Leiobowitz.

  20. Wow, awesome pictures! I think I see the face of Michael Phelps!

  21. amphiox

    Looks a little like Aquarius, the water-bearing. Pouring a great scarlet gout of superheated plasma. . . .

    Or maybe the virgin Mary. I get distinct feminine vibes from that image. Of course, everything looks like the virgin Mary when viewed from a properly inappropriate perspective. . . .

  22. CanadianLeigh

    @ Cory,
    I grew up in the sixties and I still remember the air raid sirens being tested. There was one on the fire hall two blocks from our house. In school we had national film board films about what to do if nuclear war broke out. I knew just enough science about nuclear bombs to figure it was all bs. Hiding under my desk just didn’t seem too realistic even when I was 10 years old.

  23. Adrian Lopez

    I see a one-eyed mushroom puking fire.

  24. Cory Albrecht Says: “I remember what it was like as a teenager back in the 1980’s with the Reagan Era in full swing, and how how everybody dieing in a nuckear war wasn’t such an outlandish idea.”

    Ha! You were only at the very tail end of it. I remember “duck and cover” drills and every time I was outside looking for a low wall I could duck behind. We even had “evacuation to home” drills where they let us out of school to see if we could get home in 10 minutes or less. Supposedly it was because everyone had (or was supposed to have) a shelter in their basement, but I suspect it was really so we could all say goodbye!

    – Jack

  25. feroxx

    It’s clearly Prometheus, giving the Fire to Mankind. 😉

  26. He highlighted. . . the fiery tongue of a one-eyed, big-nosed cloud monster who looks like Kilroy in a fez?

  27. Bobby Thomas

    I see someone who.. when you put your hands together and shake them above your head–and a little off to the side–in a sort of cheer?

    Is it supposed to be Jesus?

  28. I see the Statue Of Liberty as well. That was the first thing I thought when I saw this.

    I remember back in Elementary School, teachers would tell us if the Air Raid sirens sounded, to dive under our desks. Also, back in the mid-seventies, out wise town council decided to make Squamish a “Nuclear Weapons Free Zone”. We used to joke that the Soviet missiles would read that and turn around and fly back home. Apparently we were targeted because we have a deep sea port and rail link.

  29. ssur

    That’s not Jesus! That’s a golfer.

  30. If you like that kind of thing you may want to check out a book called
    “100 SUNS”.

  31. Bob Brashear

    Statue of Liberty from the rear.

  32. David

    Awesome picture! But is this really pareidolia, or just an image that one could imagine as triggering pareidolia? Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon, so you shouldn’t be able to spot it in a picture–rather, you should be finding it in either other people’s reactions to the picture, or your own. (That’s assuming it isn’t a picture of people gasping in shock when they see the face of Iggy Pop in a mustard stain, in which case it’s the genuine article: a picture of pareidolia.)

  33. Tod

    My vote is also for a golfer at the height of the backswing. How anyone can see Jeebus in that is beyond my imagination. And I am unanimous in that!

  34. CR

    I saw a nuclear bomb explosion, of course. Once highlighted, I saw a shape, and figured that it was supposed to sorta look like Jesus on the cross from a slightly sideways angle.
    Ah, I’ll bet some Dominionist, or Armageddonist, or Rapturist, or whatever label those people fall under, will use this to “prove” that we must have a nuke-you-lar war to bring about the Second Coming!
    I was joking when I typed that, but sadly, I’ll bet there are people who’ll really believe it.
    Humanity needs to get rid of nuclear weapons just so that people like that don’t use them to destroy everyone because they think ‘God commanded it.’

  35. bhikku

    They did notice at the time, though. Someone, it may even have Asimov, wrote a rotten scifi story about an observer observing an animated Satan in a nuclear explosion. It was lame then. As you consistently point out, the whole pareidolia thing is lame.

  36. Brown

    This is not an image of Jesus Christ. Rather, it is an image of a golfer flubbing a shot and SAYING “Jesus Christ!!”

  37. I see a Jesus figure….with boobs?!

  38. -R

    Is it just me, or does the glowing red part of that last cloud look like Tiger Woods after taking a swing?

  39. Arlo

    Trinity and Beyond is one of my (many) favourite documentaries! I highly recommend it!

  40. I am tempted to wonder if this means that jesus approves of nukes, or does it mean he’s so mad at us that he wants to nuke us? The things that make you go hmmmmm.

  41. I rather see a little giraffe at the center…

  42. Mark

    Oh come on! It’s clearly some sort of fire demon: take -all- the red color (including the mushroom part), and you get something a) with two large wings, b) with arms raised, c) possibly female, judging from the flow of the torso down along the arm in the foreground.
    OK, I’m kinda-sorta biased. Just the other day, I’ve re-watched LotR 1 😉

  43. Overstroming

    I see a nuclear fireball. From how far away are these photos taken? I always find it tricky to get a sense of scale on mushroom cloud photos.

  44. Amadan

    I saw the Statue of Liberty fist too.

    Yes, the joys of growing up in a primary strike target — Enid, Oklahoma: food distribution site. Tons of grain elevators, including the largest in the US. Small air force base was a secondary bonus.

  45. Philippe


    I don’t see anything. Just some smoke and then some brighter smoke.

  46. Unspeakably Violent Jack

    Reminds me of a short story by Asimov, “Hell fire”, where slowed-down footage of an a-bomb test showed the face of the devil.

  47. It’s Jesus with a scimitar, performing a sword dance. He’s just ready for the stab.

  48. Dustin

    Maybe it’s just because I grew up with Catholic imagery for most of my early life but to me it’s extremely clear what this instance of the pareidolia effect is being interpreted as by Phil: A crucified Jesus at roughly a 30 degree angle so we only see one arm. Saw it before even reading the article, plain as day.

  49. Jim McDish

    Cool dude that is some pretty neat stuff. Wow dude I like it.


  50. Ruggy

    And to think mere firecrackers are banned in my state…

  51. Dunc

    There’s an old Arthur C Clarke (or Asimov, perhaps – it’s been a while) story about the first super-slow-motion pictures taken of an atomic explosion, in which the explosion is clearly seen to form the face of Satan…

  52. rick

    haha good one.

    Rick Astley all up in that nuke.

    rickrolled again :(

  53. Bob

    Funny I never realised people took this seriously, didn’t this all start from an Issac Asminov short story where they took micropictures of nuclear explosions to see the face of Satan – oh well, seeing as they only ones who have used nuclear weapons in war are God fearing Americans we’re safe

  54. Andrew

    It’s Asimov “Hell-Fire” is the name of the story.

  55. Gary Ansorge

    I remember Hell-Fire. What bugged me at the time was how could anyone be sure it was an image of a mythical being. I mean, when was the last time anyone came back(from the dead) with Satans signed autographic picture???

    Hey, that might sell really well on E-Bay,,,

    GAry 7

  56. Sili

    I can only see one arm, so to me it looks like a heiling Hitler.

  57. Don Snow

    I saw the fear I lived under, for over forty years.

    I don’t know about French nuclear tests.
    But I think I remember that American navy stood off about twenty miles from Hydrogen bomb explosions at Bikini Atoll.

    @Michael L
    Most my childhood was right near Carswell AFB, a main SAC base. We were a prime target. By the mid ’50’s, the big talk in Fort Worth was the new Nike anti-missle missles put in around the town. Would they stop a Soviet ICBM? Or not? Were we safe, or not? The Nike sites were reassuring.

    @CR, who said
    “I was joking when I typed that, but sadly, I’ll bet there are people who’ll really believe it.
    Humanity needs to get rid of nuclear weapons just so that people like that don’t use them to destroy everyone because they think ‘God commanded it.’”
    None of the people at the churches I went to ever thought that God had anything to do with nukes. That was government, not Divine.


  58. Joe Meils

    I’m with Yoshi… I see a happy face winking at me…

    (Pre-programmed by the posters for “A Boy and His Dog” I guess…)

  59. madge

    Like Yoshi (yes I do ; ) at first I saw a winking smiley face. Then I saw a golfer. I’m with George Carlin in believing that golf is a game played by arrogant people that takes up far too much room on this planet so maybe this telling us to nuke all golfers and their sprawling golf courses 😉

  60. Sohvan

    I see someone with a Boba Fett mask playing the violin.

  61. Harold McTestes

    Looks like a $5 Subway foot-long (turkey on wheat) to me.

  62. Residual microwave radiation which is equally distributed across the entire universe is not enough to convince people of the Big Bang, yet silhouette of jesus highlighted in a mushroom cloud is proof of the unknown…

  63. What was the name of the short sci-fi story about filming a nuclear explosion with a high-speed camera, then playing it back in slo-mo and seeing an unmistakeable devil face laughing from the mushroom cloud. It was chilling when all the scientists and generals go quiet. Any ideas? It’s driving me crazy.

  64. Diogenes
  65. Pro Libertate


    It was an Asimov short story, but I’m not sure what the name of it was.

  66. Bill Bones

    Asimov’s story was titled “Hell’s fire”, if I’m not mistaken. It was published at least at “Earth is room enough.”

    As for the picture set, it just strongly feels like, “Pray so you’ll never see that live”… They’re quite eerie.

  67. I don’t see anything, maybe something is wrong with me.

  68. Irishman

    Funny, I thought you would point out the satanic Lenin face on the left side of the fireball (the reddish part). I didn’t see the central one till highlighted.

    Come on, it’s another in the Lenin series.

  69. Irishman

    I saw some of the ’50s “Duck and Cover” promotional films. Kinda amusing in a “I didn’t have to live through it” way.

    The thing about “Duck and Cover”, nobody promoted it as a way to stay safe if the fireball hit you. Rather, a somewhat distant bomb (20 miles) would not hit you with the fireball, but then after the fireball would come an expanding shock wave of radioactive dust. When that shock wave hit, you could be relatively safe if it hit your skin because the alpha particles don’t penetrate, but if you were looking into the cloud, you would get a face full of radioactives that would then get into your sinuses and lungs, thereby getting you contaminated. The key to duck and cover was to cover up until the shock wave went past, whereupon you could get up and run to your shelter to survive the more detrimental long-term fallout.

  70. We should definitely set off a few more above ground nukes. Yes, we will eventually and rather quickly end all life on Earth, but the photographic and artistic importance of it until then is certainly worth it. Maybe we can make a mushroom cloud with images of My Little Pony embedded in it!

    -Dan Cheek

  71. Tom Marking

    If anyone is interested I would highly recommend a visit to the Sedan nuclear crater in the Nevada Test Site. It is quite spectacular to see up close and personal. Sedan was a shallow underground nuclear test (194 meters deep) conducted in 1962 with a yield of 104 kilotons.

    hypertexttransportprotocol colon forwardslash forward lash en dot wikipedia dot org forwardslash wiki forwardslash Sedan_(nuclear_test)

    The crater is 100 meters deep with a diameter of 390 meters but it seems much bigger when you are standing at the rim. According to Wikipedia:

    “The crater from the test is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 10,000 visitors per year visit the crater through free monthly tours offered by the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office.”

    So apparently it is open to the public now if you go to Nevada. The next time you are in Las Vegas for TAM you might try checking it out. I think it’s a 90 minute drive from Las Vegas up to NTS.

  72. Tom Marking


    It seems like there are some restrictions for visiting the NTS. You can’t just drive up there and wander around.

    hypertexttransportprotocol colon forwardslash forwardslash www dot nv dot doe dot gov forwardslash nts forwardslash tours.htm

    “The U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office provides free general interest tours on a monthly basis. (Refer to the Tour Dates) Groups, civic or technical organizations, and private clubs may request specially-arranged tours (minimum of 10 people). Please refer to Registration for details.

    Most tours depart from the Atomic Testing Museum at 755 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, Nevada. Tours depart at approximately 7:30 a.m. and return at 4:00 p.m. Please make arrangements to arrive early enough for adequate parking.

    Points of Interest

    Mercury is the main base camp for the test site and the second largest community in Nye County.

    Frenchman Flat, where on January 27, 1951, the first atmospheric nuclear test on the Nevada Test Site, ABLE, took place. Thirteen subsequent atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted at the site between 1951 and 1962.


    Sedan was a cratering experiment as part of the Plowshare program – the peaceful uses of nuclear explosives. The 104-kiloton nuclear device explosion displaced about 12 million tons of earth, creating a crater 1,280 feet in diameter and 320 feet deep. This underground test was conducted on July 6, 1962.

    Security Requirements

    Because the test site is a restricted access government reservation, visitors must apply well in advance for tours tailored to their individual interests and needs. Prospective visitors need to supply the following background information:

    Full name as it appears on driver’s license or other photo identification
    Date and place of birth
    Home and business address, to include name of employer
    Home and business phone number
    Citizenship (foreign citizens will be asked to supply additional information). Allow six weeks for approval.
    Prohibited Articles

    Visitors are not permitted to bring cameras, binoculars, telescopes, or tape recorders on the tour.
    Cell phones are not permitted.
    Privately-owned Laptop Computer.
    Firearms are not permitted under any circumstances.
    Visitors may not remove soil, rock, plant samples or metal objects from the test site”

    I guess they won’t let you take a camera or camcorder on the tour. What the heck? Sedan was shot back in 1962. It’s hardly a secret anymore. I guess they don’t want you filming the captured UFO’s out at S4 which may be part of the tour. :)

  73. Bingo!:

    Asimov, ‘Hell-Fire’. Barely a page long.

  74. As mentioned by an earlier commenter before I asked my question. Der-brain.

  75. Ronn! Blankenship

    # Dustin Says:
    August 14th, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Maybe it’s just because I grew up with Catholic imagery for most of my early life but to me it’s extremely clear what this instance of the pareidolia effect is being interpreted as by Phil: A crucified Jesus at roughly a 30 degree angle so we only see one arm. Saw it before even reading the article, plain as day.

    – – –

    Nah, it’s obviously the angel Moroni without his trumpet:

  76. Mike

    Looks like a guy blowing a trumpet, as in, here it goes…

  77. Dread Polack

    I think it looks like Mario, jumping up to hit a brick square. He may have been expecting a fire flower or 1up, but I think he got something else altogether 😛

  78. the pareidolia thingy says to me
    ‘GOLF is an evil waste of the planet’.

  79. StevoR

    Nukes are hellish.

  80. as jim carrey once said

    how can something so beautiful…. so magnificent, melt your face right off?!

  81. purple_velvet

    what did I see:

    first of all: a silhouette, like a conductor conducting an orchestra, seen from the right..
    second: could be some kind of Japanese warrior holding a bamboo samber , fom face…
    third: I agree with the golfer or base-ball player , from behind

    Well..At least I don’t lack of imagination, it seems…

  82. Levi

    It’s also in Newsweek published in an article in volume 113 on page 35 in their June 12 1989 issue entitled “A Bad Rap for the Force de Frappe?” by Christopher Dickey in Paris. In that one, you can see the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Father head, and a dove also.

  83. Blaise

    What is wrong with you people! How many signs do you need! You evil generation. Jesus, Mary, and the devil are all clear as day!!

  84. Looks like boobs to me


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