Anatoli Bugorski was checking a component of the U-70 synchrotron particle accelerator when he accidentally put his head in the beam’s path. It was the fatidic fateful day of July 13, 1978, and as the safety devices failed, Bogorski later told that he saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”, as protons near the speed of light traveled right through his head. But he did not feel any pain.
The proton beam went through the left side of his head. Soon that side of his face swelled beyond recognition, and in the next days the skin fell, showing the path the particle beam had through his face, brain and cranium.
Radiation doses hundreds of times weaker are fatal, and Anatoli Bugorski was therefore taken to a hospital in Moscow where the doctors could watch his inevitable demise. But this was Soviet Russia, where particles accelerate YOU!!
Bugorski not only survived, but completed his PhD without virtually any damage to his intellectual abilities, except for a marked fatigue, loss of hearing and having the left side of his face paralyzed. He married and has a son. He was interviewed by Wired around ten years ago.
He did not get any superpowers either. Not as far as we know.
Given the relatively huge size of protons – nearly 2,000 times heavier than electrons – they don’t dissipate much when they hit the body, and are therefore used in radiotherapy. Bugorski’s incident was an accidental demonstration of this fact. Although the radiation dose was enormous, it was composed of a narrow beam that didn’t disperse much as it traveled inside his head.
The case is reminiscent of the classic neurological story of Phineas Gage, though Bugorski didn’t report any behavioral changes.
We don’t know if the flash he reported was real, that is, if it was the result of particles and radiation stimulating his eyes, or if it was only subjective, either by his nerves being fried or perhaps entirely imagined.
But it’s interesting to note that a small group of human beings who, like Bugorski, were subjected to a high dose of particle beams also reported seeing flashes of light.
We are talking about astronauts more vulnerable to cosmic rays when in orbit. The Apollo 11 folks were the first to walk on the Moon, but they were also the first humans to report periodical bright flashes coming from nowhere. Further investigation of the subject, going from Apollo and ongoing to this day established that these flashes are not product of imagination. In space, the cosmic rays going through the astronaut’s eyes can stimulate the retina either directly or via secondary radiations.
We can guess that were you to be hit by a highly energetic particle beam, one of the first – or last – things you would see would be a flash “brighter than a thousand suns”.
[hat tip RicBit]
Being hit by a particle accelerator beam is therefore somewhat different from the intro of “Out of this World”:
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