An obelisk built on the spot where the first atomic explosion occurred in the deserts of southern New Mexico on this date in 1945. Courtesy image


By Robert A. Naranjo

Trinity Site – One of New Mexico’s oldest visitor attractions (the formation of the White Sands) and one of the most recently created, (the Atomic bomb test site), hosted the world’s first atomic bomb test detonation on July 16, 1945 at 6:00 a.m. at the White Sands Proving Grounds, (now White Sands Missile Range), near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The heat from the explosion created “trinitite” also known as “atomsite” or “Alamogordo Glass” from residue left on the desert floor beneath the tower.

The blast crater from the air one day after the explosion. Courtesy image

“The Gadget,” as Enrico Fermi, Robert J. Oppenheimer and other physicists who worked on the atom bomb had named it, was developed by the U.S. in the secret city in northern New Mexico of Los Alamos, NM after moving from the basement of the University of Chicago where initial work had begun. It was known as the “Manhattan Project.” Splitting an atom, chain reaction – terms that were new then but would have a lasting impact to the world.

Why northern New Mexico?  It is generally understood that Fermi, Oppenheimer and the other scientists working on the atom bomb needed an isolated secret place where work could continue without detection and Los Alamos was, in their estimation, was the perfect place. Oppenheimer had been to the Los Alamos Boys Ranch in his younger years and remembered its isolation.  Additionally, the team of scientists were not sure what was going to happen when the atom was split.  Could it be contained? They needed a sparsely populated place that would suffer minimal collateral damage in the event of an atomic accident. Lucky northern New Mexico, we were just right!  

Of course no major accident happened while developing the bomb at Los Alamos but there were fatal accidents linked to the bomb on record.  On today’s date in 1945, at 6 a.m., the successful detonation of the atomic bomb ushered in something quite black and dark because man now had the capacity to end the world as we know it.  In August of 1945, the two remaining two bombs, (only three were originally made), were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki effectively ending WWII.

To test it, the Gadget was placed atop a steel tower at the White Sands Proving Grounds and detonated. The subsequent blinding flash and mushroom shaped cloud that formed immediately after, was visible to the scientists and military personnel from their vantage point a few miles away from ground zero. Of course the blast was photographed and became one of the most iconic images of all time. It symbolized a new, dangerous era in mankind’s history by initiating a nuclear arms build-up that could destroy the world many times over. Having a “nuke” became the goal of just about every country and the threat of making one became a bargaining chip for rogue countries that proved effective.

In the 1990’s, Iraq was invaded for allegedly having “WMD’s” or Weapons of Mass Destruction.  That turned out to be a false alarm and questions on the intelligence units of the U.S. became suspect. Meanwhile, a country was invaded, bombed and defeated on the “suspicion” of possessing WMD’s.

What was ironic about today’s date, July 16, to explode an atomic device? It happens to be coincide with the day of “Nuestra Senora de Carmel” – an important day religiously speaking to New Mexicans and many parts of the world.  Celebrations are held in New Mexico and elsewhere honoring this saint.  An alpha and an omega…