A monument marks Ground Zero at Trinity Site. 

For better and worse, this planet entered the atomic age on July 16, 1945 at precisely 5:29:45 AM Mountain War Time, when the first atomic bomb was detonated at Trinity Site in New Mexico, a culmination of the Manhattan Project headquartered in Los Alamos.

Entrenched in World War II and desperate to develop the weapon before the Nazis, US scientists led by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer designed two weapons: one based on uranium and the other on plutonium.  The latter was a more complex design and the scientists felt that it needed to be tested before it could be used as a weapon of war. Trinity Site was chosen as the testing ground because it was already a part of the government-controlled Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range.  Its proximity to Los Alamos served as a convenience for scientists to travel to and from the facility during the design phase, and the isolation and seclusion provided by the Jornada del Muerto almost guaranteed project secrecy.

 

The MacDonald ranch house where the bomb was assembled.

 

The bomb was assembled in the master bedroom of the vacated MacDonald ranch house, approximately two miles from Ground Zero and detonation took place in the predawn hours of a still, New Mexico summer morning.  Although no information on the test was released until after the atomic bomb was used as a weapon against Japan, it was obvious to the people in New Mexico that something had happened. The shock of the blast broke windows 120 miles away and was felt by many at least 160 miles away. Residents in Roswell reported seeing an eerie glow in the sky. The heat of the blast vaporized the steel tower from which the bomb was suspended and melted the desert sand into a green glassy substance appropriately named Trinitite which can still be found in the area.

Trinity Site holds a biannual open house in spring and in autumn (October 6, 2012), and visitors travel nationwide to visit this national historic landmark.  For their own safety, travelers on the missile range are not allowed to stop on the roadside and wander through the landscape because of risk of undetonated weapons.  Photography is permitted only at Trinity and not on any other part of the missile range.

Radiation levels in the fenced ground zero area are low. On an average the levels are only 10 times greater than the region´s natural background radiation. A one-hour visit to the inner fenced area will result in a whole body exposure of one-half to one millirem (an adult in the USA receives an average of 360 millirems every year from natural and medical sources). Although most of the trinitite and other radioactive material has been removed,  there is a low structure which covers and preserves a portion of the original crater floor.

This is a site well worth the trip for any history buff. The blast clearly changed the landscape of ground zero and the course of the war, and the monument at Trinity Site is an ominous testament to the scientific genius of mankind, and at the same time a reminder and warning of the deadly power of the atom when used for destruction. Witnesses of the detonation describe a searing bright magnesium type white light, followed by a fireball traveling up through a tube of smoke which mushroomed out at about 20,000 feet, and then punctuated by a deafening blast and heat. The scene could be described as beautiful and horrific in the same breath.  Watching this new phenomenon that resulted from the research he directed, Oppenheimer later remarked that the only phrase which kept running through his mind was a line from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

 

 Inside the MacDonald ranch house.

Helene is a lifestyle and fine art photographer and can be contacted at www.helenekobelnyk.net or ohk@valornet.com

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