Over 100 miles away from the test site, window panes in homes were shattered and dishes were knocked to the ground. Official observers of the blast marveled at the heat and sheer magnitude of the blast. Dr. Philip Morrison, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, observed the explosion ten miles from its epicenter. From that vantage point, the physicist said the 19-kiloton explosion resembled the “heat of the sun,” and noted that he saw “two sunrises” that morning.
The explosion at the Trinity site was the result of years of research and development by the United States. In 1939, Albert Einstein warned President Roosevelt that Nazi Germany was working on a nuclear weapon and urged the President to initiate an atomic bomb program in the United States. It was not until the attack on Pearl Harbor that the US decided to begin a full-scale nuclear weapons research and development program, known as the Manhattan Project. Fearing an accidental detonation during the research and building phases, the US selected remote areas for working on the project, with the most famous being at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The project became a massive endeavor for the United States, costing almost $2 billion ($30 billion in today’s dollars) and employing over 600,000 people. The year 1943 marked a transition in the project. Prior to this point, work on the bomb was largely theoretical and was based on fundamental experiments that were carried out across the US. However after 1943, resource procurement and bomb building began in earnest. The pace of the project required several lines of research and development to occur simultaneously to ensure the weapon would be available before the end of World War II.
The successful test at the Trinity site 70 years ago made it possible for the US to deploy the world’s first and only nuclear strikes. Several weeks after the initial test, a plane laden with an atomic bomb departed for Hiroshima, Japan. One minute after the bomb was dropped, the Tokyo control operator of the Japanese Broadcasting Corporation noticed that the Hiroshima station had gone off the air. It was not until 16 hours after the bomb detonated that the Japanese finally learned what had really happened.
On the 70th anniversary of the Trinity site explosion, the world is reminded of the existential threat nuclear weapons present. Today, nine countries possess nuclear weapons. The global stockpile is estimated to be in the thousands, and countries like China are working to expand their arsenals even further. The world needs to work together to eliminate nuclear weapons and to prevent a future catastrophe. All nuclear armed states must work in concert to reduce their stockpiles and assist in the strengthening of non-proliferation treaties. The legacy of the Trinity site and the unimaginable dangers of a nuclear blast must never be forgotten.