Trinity Atomic Bomb site- New Mexico
The actual crater cannot now be discriminated from the rest of the desert, and the marked off area is much smaller than I thought it would be. The original crater was said to be only 330 meters in diameter. It wasn’t really an “explosion” in the TNT sense, it was more of a large fireball,the temperature of the sun. Instead of digging into the earth, it melted the earth, sucked it up into the fireball, liquefied it, then allowed gravity to eventually settle and cool it like lava. In the 50s, the radioactive desert glass was bulldozed into a deep pit and buried. Seekers can occasionally find small pieces of molten sand (“Trinitite”) in the sand (see my photos).
The project was named “Trinity” by lead physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The explanations for this odd moniker remain obscure. Oppenheimer was a man of many interests, not the least of which was poetry. Some say he named it after a poem by John Donne. “”As West and East / In all flatt Maps-and I am one-are one, / So death doth touch the Resurrection.” Oppenheimer was very interested in Indian writings and was fluent in reading and writing Indian language. My personal conjecture is that he took the name from the Bhagavad Gita (a work he quoted frequently): “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.”
in 1943, the project took on an emergent tone because the Germans were working on it as well. Probably the only reason the Germans didn’t develop a working bomb first is that they threw virtually everyone with a knowledge of physics out of the country. All those folks quickly immigrated to America and took up residence in American universities. The project from A to Z was fraught with doubt and obstacles. Taskmaster Gen. Leslie Groves was brought in to assure the logistics of success. Few actually thought it would work, and more than a few thought there was a possibility such a blast would recruit atmospheric atoms, instantly destroying the earth. A rhyme was penned on the proverbial outhouse wall:
“From this crude lab that spawned a dud,
their necks to Truman’s axe uncurled,
Lo, the embattled savants stood,
and fired the flop heard round the world.”
Oppenheimer rarely ate or slept during the last phase of the project and weighed 116 pounds at the time of the blast. He is said to have propped himself up on a wooden beam in the last few seconds barely breathing and pale as a sheet.
At 5:29:45 AM on July 16, 1945 the world entered the Atomic Age and was changed forever. Shortly after the blast, Oppenheimer is also said to have again uttered a line from the Bhagavad Gita: “Kalo Asmi Loka-ksaya-krit Pravardho, Lokan Samartum iha Pravattah” translated as “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”. He probably didn’t say that then, but he was surely thinking it. His brother recalls his response as immense relief and “it worked!”. The Trinity detonation was equivalent to the explosion of around 20 kilotons of TNT, with a temperature calculated at 14,710 degrees F. The flash was seen as far as 250 miles. It broke windows 120 miles away, was felt as far as 160 miles.
I was one of the first visitors to set foot on the site at 8:15 am on October 3, 2009. It was as desolate as the desert locale name Jornada del Muerto (single day’s journey of the dead man) suggested. As I stood there quietly in the desert breeze, I thought about the enormity of the project, beginning with a vague theoretical possibility and ending with fruition only 28 months later. So much for the current myth that the “government” can’t accomplish anything. I pictured in my mind’s eye not so much what the blast looked like but what it must have been like to wait for the apocalypse that would change the world forever, or an empty click and silence.
Lifelong chain smoker Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967. Groves died of a myocardial infarction in 1970. There are too many books about the subject to recount.