The plastic bag kinda mucks with the picture and makes it hard to see that it has a greenish tinge to it, with streaks of darker greenish material going through it. It’s slightly purtier in person. It’s also slightly radioactive, but not enough to be dangerous anymore, unless you ground it up and ate it. It’s probably safest to wash your hands after handling it, so I generally do, but that’s really just a precautionary gesture. The plastic bag that I keep it in is more than sufficient to block any alpha particle radiation (which are really just the nucleus of helium atoms: 2 protons + 2 neutrons), or beta radiation (which are really just electrons) that come from it, but gamma rays (which are high energy photons) are deeply penetrating. It’s probably emitting all three from the various semi-random fission fragments/decay products that permeate it. It’s not a very intense emitter though, <1000cpm at the highest point of measurement. They run a probe over the whole surface, and just record the reading from the most intense point.
Oppenheimer said…”Do we really wanna do this, guys?” And they looked at him, and lo, they did laugh, and point, and call him a commie. In hushed tones, someone whispered something about revoking his security clearance. And then there was light.
And then everyone in the room shit their pants. Some started to wonder if they’d just made a terrible mistake. They’d just set off the world’s first nuclear explosion, and it was quite unlike anything in all of human experience. This is what it looked like a little bit more than 1/100th of a second into it. You’d never have seen this though, you’d have been instantly, and permanently blinded a few hundredths of a second before your brain even knew you were seeing something. The device, known as the “Gadget” was placed on a tower, several hundred feet above the ground. The expanding fireball is just reaching the ground here, the turbulence generated as it strikes the ground, then rebounds up, and outwards is just amazing. This is 16/1000ths of a second after the explosion began, and the fireball is already 300 meters wide, and expanding outwards at a velocity of about 20-30,000 feet per second, according to the calculations I just pulled from my ass. The fireball topped out at about 800 meters across. This is one of those moments that will retain significance forever.
When man learned to make tools, he demonstrated a new understanding of kinetic energy, and how to harness kinetic energy to do work for him. When man learned to control fire, he was demonstrating a new ability to put chemical energy to work for him. .017 seconds before this picture was taken, man knew how to expend energy to make tools out of things that consisted of matter. At this exact moment, it was made clear that we had learned how to make a tool of matter itself to make use of the energy locked up inside. It’s another fundamental leap in understanding on par with the moments where man invented tools, and discovered fire. .016 seconds earlier, the world was fundamentally changed, for better or worse. It was right here that we gained the ability to exterminate ourselves.
When it was all over, there was a crater 330 meters wide. The earth inside the crater that didn’t get vaporized and become part of the fireball was instantly heated to its melting point, and turned into little bits of molten glass. At the same time, it was bombarded with the radioactive fission fragments from the bomb itself. As tends to happen to things that are mere meters from a nuclear explosion, it ended up radioactive. The site was eventually buried, but not before some of this radioactive, glassified earth was collected. They named it Trinitite. Here’s my wee little chunk of it. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a piece of history. There’s only one first nuclear explosion ever, and this little sucker was literally inside it. It’s the bits of earth that were caught in the fireball, drawn up into it, turned to molten glass, and then rained back down into the crater, or were just exposed to the fireball directly, and insta-melted.
If you want a piece of your very own, you can still get some, but perhaps not for much longer. You have to be careful though, there are a lot of fakes out there. I think United Nuclear is pretty legit, and I highly recommend taking a good long gander at their catalog. They’ve got all kinds of fascinating stuff that will make you want to spend money. I don’t think I’ve ever gone there and spent less than $400. You gotta love a place where you can buy Polonium-210.
Incidentally, you might be interested to learn about the special cameras they use to make the pictures like the one up top. It takes a special kinda camera with a shutter speed measured in the nanoseconds. They call them Rapatronic cameras. Some of the pictures that have been taken are MUCH more fascinating than the one here. They have this kind of unreal, ethereal quality to them that’s just out of this world.