"The whole world went up in flames": memoirs of participants in the first-ever nuclear explosion involving Oppenheimer

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Oppenheimer was frightened by what he saw

On 16 July 1945, the participants of the Manhattan Project conducted the first-ever atomic bomb test, called Trinity. The project was led by physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who, seeing the power of the invention, compared himself to Death, but other participants were also impressed by the bomb's terrifying power.

LiveScience published the memoirs of the project participants, published in the book by Kai Byrd and Martin Sherwin "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer".

Physicist Richard Feynman watched the explosion from a distance of 32 kilometres. When he was handed special tinted glasses, he thought it was stupid because he would not be able to see anything through them. The scientist got into a truck moving towards the explosion site to see it as close as possible.

Luckily for Feynman, the truck's windscreen shielded his eyes from the harmful ultraviolet rays, and he was able to see the flash, although he reflexively ducked when the explosion occurred.

When he looked up, he saw the white light change to yellow and then orange.

"A big ball of orange, the centre, which was so bright, becomes a ball of orange, which starts to rise and swell a little bit, get a little black around the edges, and then you see it's a big ball of smoke with flashes on the inside, the fire goes out, the fire gets hot," the physicist described what he saw.

For almost a minute and a half, he watched the aftermath of the explosion, and only then did the sound wave reach him, and he heard the terrible roar of man-made thunder.

One of the Manhattan Project's leaders, chemist James Conant, expected the flash of light to be instantaneous, but when the bomb exploded, everything became so bright that he thought something had gone wrong and "the whole world was in flames."

Nuclear explosion on 16 July 1945

Physicist Bob Serber also watched the explosion from a distance of 32 km. He used the glass from his welding mask to protect his eyes, but just as he lowered his tired arm slightly, the explosion occurred.

The flash was so bright that Serber lost his sight for 30 seconds, and when he could see again, he saw a bright purple column rising into the sky, 6-9 kilometres high.

"I could feel the heat on my face at a distance of 32 km," the physicist recalled.

Chemist Joe Hirschfelder, who measured the radioactive fallout from the explosion, said he saw "suddenly night turned to day".

"It became extremely bright, the cold turned to heat; the fireball gradually turned from white to yellow and red, growing in size and rising into the sky," he said.

According to Hirschfelder, the glow lasted for about five seconds, and then darkness returned, but the sky was filled with a purple glow similar to the aurora borealis.

Robert Oppenheimer's brother Frank said he saw the explosion even though he was lying on the ground with his eyes closed.

"The light of the first flash penetrated my eyelids and reflected off the ground. When I raised my head, I saw a fireball, and then, almost immediately afterwards, this unearthly cloud hovering above the ground," he said.

He also said that he felt the intense heat that came from the explosion cover them. And then he heard the sound of the explosion echoing off the distant mountains.

But the scariest thing, he said, was "a shiny purple cloud, black with radioactive dust, hanging there, and you didn't know if it was going to rise up or float towards you."

Oppenheimer himself lay face down outside the control bunker, just over 9 kilometres from ground zero.

As the moment of the explosion approached, the physicist was in a state of anxiety and fear, grumbling "Oh, God, how heavy my heart is from these events."

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL also told the main facts about Robert Oppenheimer.

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