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Did Thursday pass you by?

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By Ralph Damiani

Well, how many of you remembered to honor Thursday? It is a day that is not only important to Los Alamos but to the world.

Thursday was the anniversary of the first atomic bomb test, conducted on July 16, 1945.

The name of the site where the bomb went off was named Trinity, the location of the first test of a nuclear explosion ever conducted. We know that Trinity is in New Mexico, in that portion of the desert known as the Jornade del Muerto – Journey of Death – near Alamogordo.

The director of the “Manhattan Project” which developed the bomb here was J. Robert Oppenheimer. It is reported that he named the site Trinity after the fourteenth of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, which begins, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.”

There were 425 men present as witnesses when the atomic bomb exploded. Most observers were well past 10,000 yards from the detonation, which was equivalent to the explosion of around 20 kilotons of TNT. (Around 100 scientists entered a betting pool at a dollar a bet on the yield of the bomb, which was unknown before the test.)

The bomb went off at 5:29:45 a.m.

Gerard J. DeGroot, in his history of the bomb, The Bomb: A Life, writes, “The sun had been briefly recreated on Earth. A colony on Mars, had such a thing existed, could have seen the flash. Elizabeth Ingram was traveling in a car when her sister suddenly shouted ‘What was that light?’ Her sister had been blind since childhood.”

Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin, in their biography of Oppenheimer, American Prometheus, recorded Oppenheimer’s recollections of the detonation in a 1965 NBC documentary: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to pursuade the prince that he should do his duty and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

It was history-changing. And while the entire project remains contorversial to some, clearly it was a necessary thing to do.

The use of the bomb on Japan was clearly not a pleasant thing to do. But neither was fire-bombing cities, killing more than the atom bomb did.

And it was certainly better than a ground invasion of Japan, in which millions upon millions would have died.

It was a proper and necessary action.

It was many years before the world knew of the existence of Los Alamos and the role played here.

It is a legacy we continue today with the work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.