Happy Trinity Day

Happy Trinity Day: on this day in 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated in Alamogordo, in Los Alamos, NM. Celebrate with a mushroom pizza.

Don't miss Ellen Klages's award-winning Green Glass Sea, the best story ever written about trinitite (the radioactive green-glass "rocks" made from sand fused by the Trinity detonation) and remember, you can buy the stuff online!

With gallows humor, the Los Alamos physicists got up a betting pool on the possible yield of the bomb. Estimates ranged from zero to as high as 45,000 tons of TNT. Enrico Fermi, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1938 for his work on nuclear fission, offered side odds on the bomb destroying all life on the planet.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, was under no illusions about what he and his fellow physicists had wrought. The effects of the blast, the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT, moved the intellectual Oppenheimer to quote from the Bhagavad Gita: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."

More prosaically, Dr. Kenneth Bainbridge, site director of the Trinity test, said: "Now we are all sons-of-bitches."

Link (Thanks, Evan!)

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)


  1. I loves me some mushroom clouds! In honor of Trinity Day, I’m going to listen to DEVO’s “Beautiful World” on repeat all day long.

  2. I’m halfway through “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes. A good read, I only hope I know how it ends.

  3. With all due respect, “happy” is not really the best word to commemorate this occasion. I would go with something more along the lines of “terrifying.”

  4. the first atomic bomb was detonated in Alamogordo, in Los Alamos, NM

    Alamogordo and Los Alamos are about 250 miles apart. Trinity Site is near the Stallion Gate of White Sands Missile Range about 100 miles from Alamogordo. The main entrance of the missile range is between Las Cruces and Alamogordo over 300 miles from Los Alamos.

    I visited Trinity Site a few years back and stood at ground zero. Quite an amazing place. Another good place to visit is the Atomic Museum in Albuquerque.

    Las Cruces, New Mexico

  5. I know that there’s death and destruction and mutations and all, but there is still a certain splendor to it.

  6. Happy, indeed.

    As Antinous points out, for all the horror and death this weapon wrought upon the world, there is also something tremendous about both the blast itself, and what it meant for humanity.

    As for great stories that contain Trinitite and Trinity – I’ll always love The Great & Secret Show. Not a completist Barker fan by any means, in fact I find some of his work cringe inducing. But something about that novel (and Everville, the carry-on volume) will stick with me for all of (my) time.

  7. I love that the trinitite vendor tells you the sample’s weight in grams and size in inches. No matter where you live, you’re gonna have to do some figuring to get units you’re used to.

    (Well, OK, American scientists can cope with grams easily enough.)

  8. I strongly believe that the Trinity explosion is a historic divider that separates all before from all after. My trip to the site was the closest thing to a spiritual pilgrimage I have ever made.

  9. The nuclear nightmare looms over us still with threats from ever ready missiles, reactor leaks & nuclear waste. Still, choking clouds of coal dust have dropped far more uranium onto us than all the bomb tests, accidents and spills combined. We’ll probably lean on our fission crutch for some time while our species works out the secrets of fusion. The irony is we already have a sustained fusion reaction providing us all the power we’ll ever need. If only it were easier to meter sunlight…

    The peace sign (☮) originally stood for Nuclear Disarmament, but now it’s just another logo to adorn kids sneakers to give them an illusion of social conscience. We’re out of the ABM treaty by presidential fiat and the Doomsday Clock shows 5 minutes to go. I hope you all remember to practice your duck and cover drills.

  10. @mdhatter:

    Yes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb as well as Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb are the definitive histories of the creation of nuclear weapons. The first book is also an excellent introduction to the history of nuclear physics for the layman since the first half of the book discusses the discoveries of atomic and nuclear physics that made the atomic bomb a possibility. I can’t recommend these books enough. It was some of the happiest days of my life when I stumbled upon these masterpieces of history.

    On another note, for the people who are talking about the majesty of nuclear weapons, I recommend you check out the rope trick effects as well as the image of nuclear explosions milliseconds after detonation.

  11. #12 , You don’t think something serious can happen with all the nukes about, many not accounted for?

    Sadly, I think it’s only a matter of time, either by mistake or evil intent, one or many of those bombs are going to go pop. Hope it’s not on your or my continent.

  12. Recurring nightmares as a child always featured nuclear explosions. I wonder if kids today still have nightmares about stuff like that?

  13. Actually, Alamogordo is much closer to Trinity than Las Alamos. Bingham is the actual closest “town” with a population of roughly 5, the nearest chartered town to the blast site was San Antonio, NM when the blast happened.

  14. the first atomic bomb was detonated in Alamogordo, in Los Alamos, NM

    Try again. Like Zacharski says, the Trinity Site is on the White Sands Missle Range, much closer to Socorro. The Trinity Device was built in Los Alamos, but it’s more than 100 miles drive from Los Alamos or Alamogordo.

  15. Is everybody HAPPY!

    They had their share of dancing, drinking, and shagging up on the Mesa during the designing of that bomb. I wrote a thing on it, focussing on the square dancing at Los Alamos.

    It also sheds a little light on Tennis For Two, sometimes cited as the world’s first video game.

  16. I’m going to celebrate by watching the awesome Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb movie. It’s narrated by William Shatner and had a lot of recently declassified footage (it’s from ’95). The DVD even has sections in 3D!

    Also gonna celebrate by playing Infocom’s awesome text adventure game Trinity. It was their last and one of their best games.

  17. Here’s the thing with Alamogordo. It’s 70 miles from the Trinity Site, but it was the name that the popular press used *everywhere* in talking about the first bomb test.

    So in the late 1940s, even the name “Alamogordo” conjured up a sense of doom. Most people associated that town with the place where the fear began.

    (My new book is set in Alamogordo, and deals with the post-war reactions to the bomb….)


    PS: Thanks for the shout out, Cory!

  18. Sorry, Cory, it is not Los Alamos, but Alamogordo after all. Check out this Google map: http://tinyurl.com/5lc3ct

    Alamogordo is something of a hick town, but the White Sands National Monument (that white stuff on the map) is something to see — a HUGE deposit of gypsum. It’s disconcerting seeing huge hills of white stuff in the blazing heat of the desert — the mind (my mind anyway) wants it to be snow, but it’s not. The sand, incidentally, is water soluble — if you put some in your mouth, it will disappear after a while.

    Other interesting sites near there are the White Sands Missile Range, where the imported German rocket scientists developed the beginnings of NASA; a really nice space museum that includes the rocket sled John Stapp used to ride; and the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak, where you can walk right onto the observing deck of a ludicrously huge solar observing telescope (a relic of times when science money was easier to find, and still cutting edge 35 years after it was built).

    –Craig DeForest (zowie), unable to post as myself for some reason – site says “permission denied”.

  19. Stallion Gate by Martin Cruz Smith is a great novel about the Manhattan Project and ends at the instant of the blast. I highly recommend it for fans of Smith’s ‘flawed protagonist’ style.

  20. Another recommendation here for Richard Rhodes – the two books referenced above are freakin’ brilliant. There’s a third book, Arsenals of Folly, which covers more of the political side of the Cold War and is also a worthy read. Rhodes is working on a fourth book now.

  21. #15, judging from the tone of some of the comments, I suspect the answer for “kids today” is “not so much.” (Hope I’m wrong)

  22. Please also read “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart” by my friend Lydia Millet. Quoting from the dust jacket ” . . . imagines a world in which the three geniuses who were key to the invention of the atom bomb-physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard–are displaced to contemporary America at the moment history’s first mushroom cloud rises over the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. When the scientists appear in Santa Fe in 2003, Ann, a reference librarian, and her doting husband Ben take them in, and with the long-dead physicists for houseguests are swept up in a quixotic and calamitous quest.”

    “Oh Pure and Radiant Heart” is brilliant! An amazing read. It made The Arthur C Clarke Shortlist in 2007 and deservedly so, too, in my opinion. I loved this book a lot. Check it out.

  23. I just want to mention that United Nuclear sells a variety of trinitrite samples, too… and they’re good people who like to sell neat stuff to nerdy folks without hassling them about it.


    I’m really fond of them and I like what they stand for (making science supplies accessible to the common man and not just those with a business/university purchase order), so I like sending business their way. Plus their trinitrite has some other perks thrown in that probably makes it more collectible.

  24. I am reminded of once hearing Rush Limbaugh claim “Liberals LOVE death” (during the whole Terri Schiavo debacle, which he also equated with abortion), and I thought “well, you clutch your atomic bomb tightly tonight when you go to bed.”

    But it’s OK. Hindu and Buddhist thought teaches that death is part of life, and these things go in huge, grand cycles, and so if we destroy ourselves it’s no more of a big deal than the dinosaurs going extinct; it had to happen, eternity is long, and life goes on without us (maybe not our human life but some life).

    So it goes.

  25. Yeah, gonna have to ditto the part about the trinity site not being either Los Alamos or Alamogordo. Last year, when my family drove down from Albuquerque to visit the site on one of the two days a year it was open to the public, we stayed in a hotel in Socorro, which is closer than both of those cities.

    Fascinating stuff, trinitie. They warn you not to accept people selling greenish rabbit poop masquerading as post-atomic stone.

    The site itself is really interesting – it’s level grassland for miles until you get to mountains. Being in southern New Mexico, the site looks entirely unchanged from the result of the nuclear blast. Deserts are empty with minimal scrubland anyways.

  26. Well what is a shock wave really to a plain or a mountain? Were the thing alive it might wake up from its nap, think “hm, nice earthquake, that one”, and resume its millennia-long wait to erode down to nothingness.

    Plants, however…

    Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the bushes?!

  27. #20 POSTED BY KLAGES , JULY 16, 2008 8:31 AM
    Here’s the thing with Alamogordo. It’s 70 miles from the Trinity Site, but it was the name that the popular press used *everywhere* in talking about the first bomb test.

    I guess they are confusing Alamogordo, the town, with the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range (now White Sands Missile Range) where Trinity Site is located. The range is this huge 4,000 square mile area. The Missile Range’s motto is “Birthplace of America’s Missile and Space Activity” A pretty cool place.

  28. Alas…the whole Bhagavad Gita quote thing is merely some petty post-facto posturing by Oppenheimer…

    According to Oppenheimer’s brother…what he said at the time was ‘It worked’…

    Well cool, yeah? And much more prosaic than Dr. Kenneth Bainbridge…

  29. …visit the site on one of the two days a year it was open to the public…

    First Saturday of April & first Saturday of October, as of about 10 years ago when I went.

  30. The Making of the Atomic Bomb is not merely the best history of the bomb. It’s also the best general history of the development of atomic and nuclear physics that I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of ’em.

    Another great read is The Los Alamos Lectures by Robert Serber. It’s the material that Serber would periodically present to new scientists arriving at Los Alamos. You’ll need a degree in physics to understand it.

  31. I am typing this in Socorro… I’m a programmer at the radio astronomy observatory here. Lots of people here work at the Stallion Range, it’s the closest town (with an actual traffic signal).

    Public access for the Trinity Site is still the first Saturday in April and October. There generally a large, guided-tour event of our Very Large Array radio-telescope the same weekend, but you can come by any time (we are not a classified facility). But you are better off getting a guided tour.

    This will give you the dates of the next Trinity Site day. I have to disagree about “untouched desert” — the Dept of Energy came in and scraped most of the Trinitite away, and the round scar is easy to spot on Google Earth.

  32. @ 36 – fair enough. The area of impact is noticeable. But the plant life that exists at Trinity seems to be the same plant life that exists for miles around, and so even at the impact site, it looks like the minimal desert grasses are back in full force.

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