75 Years of the Nuclear Age

The GadgetJuly 16, 1945. 5:29 AM Mountain Time, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The Gadget was detonated – the 1st nuclear explosion – by the Manhattan Project. It was a plutonium implosion device.

At 05:29:21 (July 16, 1945) local time, the device exploded. It left a crater of radioactive glass in the desert 10 feet (3.0 m) deep and 1,100 feet (340 m) wide. At the time of detonation, the surrounding mountains were illuminated brighter than daytime for one to two seconds, and the heat was reported as being as hot as an oven at the base camp. The observed colors of the illumination ranged from purple to green and eventually to white. The roar of the shock wave took 40 seconds to reach the observers. The shock wave was felt over 100 miles (160 km) away, and the mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles (12.1 km) in height. After the initial euphoria of witnessing the explosion had passed, test director Kenneth Bainbridge commented to Los Alamos director J. Robert Oppenheimer, Now we are all sons of bitches. Oppenheimer later stated that, while watching the test, he was reminded of a line from the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture: Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

(The Gadget was similar to Fat Man, which was dropped on Nagasaki on the 9th August that year. Little Boy, which was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, was a uranium gun-trigger.)

Video of the blast is all over YouTube. Here is a short one.

The best documentary I have seen on The Manhattan Project is The Day After Trinity. It is currently available on YouTube; how long that will be the case is anyone’s guess. When it was filmed, several of the scientists from The Manhattan Project were still alive for interviews.

It was later determined to be an 18-to-20 kiloton explosion. (The equivalent of 18,000 tons of TNT or more) Relatively small by modern standards. Thermonuclear – or hydrogen – bombs are measured in megatons. (The largest -Tsar Bomba of the USSR – measured 50 megatons)

5 thoughts on “75 Years of the Nuclear Age

  1. One thing The Day After Trinity that was omitted, when Truman told Stalin about the atomic bomb, which was prior to Hiroshima, Stalin was not surprised at all and had no reaction to the “news.” He already knew of the bomb because of the spies the Soviets had inside the Manhattan Project.


    • I spent a summer at Oak Ridge National Lab. And while it it buried in the hills of Tennessee, it isn’t like you could really move that many people from Chicago, Boston, and Berkley to Tennessee without some knowledge getting out.

      I don’t know how large it was compared to the site at New Mexico, but I’m told NM was the larger site.

      Or let’s put it another way… do you think we were spying on the Russians during that time?


      • Though the powers-that-be did seem shocked at the power-grab made by the Soviets. In the same way Obama & Co. were surprised when the Russians invaded Crimea. I think that was more a lack of imagination than a lack of information


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