July 16, 1945 – First Atomic Bomb Explosion

Trinity is the name given to the location of the first test of a nuclear weapon conducted by the United States. Trinity is in New Mexico, in that portion of the desert known as the Jornade del Muerto, or Journey of Death. It lies 35 miles southeast of Socorro near Alamogordo.

Trinity Site explosion, 0.016 second after explosion, July 16, 1945

The director of the “Manhattan Project” which developed the bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico was J. Robert Oppenheimer. He named the bomb site Trinity after the fourteenth of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, which begins, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.”

The bomb went off at 5:29:45 a.m. on July 16, 1945. Gerard J. DeGroot, in his history of the bomb, The Bomb: A Life, writes:

The sun had been briefly recreated on earth. A colony on Mars, had such a thing existed, could have seen the flash. Elizabeth Ingram was traveling in a car when her sister suddenly shouted ‘What was that light?’ Her sister had been blind since childhood.”

425 men were present as witnesses when the atomic bomb exploded. Most observers were well past 10,000 yards from the detonation, which was equivalent to the explosion of around 20 kilotons of TNT. (Around 100 scientists entered a betting pool at a dollar a bet on the yield of the bomb, which was unknown before the test.)

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, in their masterful biography of Oppenheimer, American Prometheus, recorded Oppenheimer’s recollections of the detonation in a 1965 NBC documentary:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to pursuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

Trinity Test Director Kenneth Bainbridge’s comment was more prosaic: “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

Fallout in Röntgens around the Trinity site

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