Trinity Site: 1945-1995

A National Historic Landmark
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico


"The effects could well be called unprecedented, magnificent, beautiful, stupendous, and terrifying. No man-made phenomenon of such tremendous power had ever occurred before. The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun."

Brig. Gen. Thomas Farrell

The Theory

Los Alamos scientists devised two designs for an atomic bomb--one using the uranium and another using the plutonium. The uranium bomb was a simple design and scientists were confident it would work without testing. The plutonium bomb worked by compressing the plutonium into a critical mass which sustains a chain reaction. The compression of the plutonium ball was to be accomplished by surrounding it with lens-shaped charges of conventional explosives. They were designed to all explode at the same instant. The force is directed inward, thus smashing the plutonium from all sides.

In an atomic explosion, a chain reaction picks up speed as atoms split, releasing neutrons plus great amounts of energy. The escaping neutrons strike and split more atoms, thus releasing still more neutrons and energy. In a nuclear explosion this all occurs in a millionth of a second with billions of atoms being split.

Project leaders decided a test of the plutonium bomb was essential before it could be used as a weapon of war. From a list of eight sites in California, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, Trinity Site was chosen as the test site. The area already was controlled by the government because it was part of the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range which was established in 1942. The secluded Jornado del Muerto was perfect as it provided isolation for secrecy and safety, but was still close to Los Alamos.

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