Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Atomic Glass

The world's first atomic bomb was tested on the White Sands Missile Range near Alamagordo, New Mexico.   The test site is called Trinity but no one seems to know the origins of that particular name.   The scientists needed to test the plutonium atomic bomb because of it's implosion technology for compressing the central plutonium core to criticality.   It was a hot morning on July 16, 1945.  The bomb sat at the top of a steel tower that was 100 feet high.  
The tower was a surplus Forestry Service fire-watch tower.   At the top of the tower inside the enclosure sat the plutonium bomb referred to as "the gadget".
At 5:29 am on that fateful day of July 16, 1945 the world would lose its innocence with the explosion of the first atomic bomb.    Since the bomb sat at the top of a tower that was only 100 feet high, the fireball reached the ground vaporizing the metal tower and turning the desert sand into a green glass.
The crater created  by the nuclear explosion was a shallow depression 2400 feet across.   The sand which had been fused into an atomic glass which is now called trinitite.  
And yes, it is mildly radioactive.
Every time I see a piece of trinitite I am fascinated by the fact that this was at one time inside of an atomic fireball.   Each piece of trinitite is a piece of history.   You can still find pieces of trinitite but it is getting harder and harder, and more expensive with the passage of time.    The glass trinitite was bulldozed and put into metal drums and buried somewhere.   But some small pieces remain in the crater.   There is some trinitite out there which is not really trinitite.   At the north entrance to the White Sands Missile Range where the trinity test site is located there was a rock shop.   This north entrance is called Stallion Gate, a colorful name.   On one of my visits to the Trinity test site I stopped at the rock shop.   There was a nice older gentleman there.
I don't know his name but he has appeared a couple times in the pages of the National Geographic magazine.   Here he is holding a handful of trinitite.   He told me that he use to go to the trinity site to collect the trinitite until they bulldozed the site and secured the site with a locked chain link fence.   He told me that he sold all of the trinitite that he had but people were still asking for trinitite and so he decided to manufacture trinitite with a blow torch melting the desert sand into a glass.   Depending on which way the fallout cloud drifted and where he collected his sand it may not contain the radioactive Cs-137 which is found in fallout.    He was a nice gentleman and we had a pleasant conversation.    The trinity site is open to the public on the first saturday in April and the first saturday in October.   I always liked the first saturday in October for visiting the site because I would spend the weekend in Albuquerque and the first weekend in October is also when there is a massive hot air balloon festival with over 600 hot air balloons.
What a magnificent sight.   And there is so much to see and do in relation to the balloon festival.   Have a great day and if you ever have the opportunity to see a piece of trinitite, just remember that it was once inside of an atomic fireball.   How unique.     Lew


wmk21037 said...

The man in the picture holding Trinitite is Sam Jones. He died in 1992 and his widow sold the shop to the present owner in 1995. According to the new owner, Sam liked to spin a tale and thought it was highly unlikely he ever manufactured any Trinitite. In any case, Trinity has been enclosed and locked since the perimeter fence was erected about a month after the explosion. It was patrolled 24 hours a day by soldiers and dogs until about 1949 when the Army withdrew its guards. The site was bulldozed in 1953 and the Trinitite buried in mounds located about 100 feet inside the perimeter fence. Ten ash cans of the hottest Trinitite were locked in a bunker 2 miles south of Ground Zero within a month of the explosion. These were removed by the AEC in 1967 and buried in a low level disposal site at Los Alamos.

Lew said...

Thanks for the information. It is always nice to put a name with a face. A nice man and I am sorry to hear of his passing. Lew