Tuesday, April 08, 2008


I came across this photograph in a magazine the other day. A blast from the past. Literally.

1952. I was sixteen years old.

An above ground nuclear shot, recorded one-thousandth of a second after detonation with a special camera designed by Harold "Doc" Edgerton of MIT (click to enlarge). Shutter speed one 10-billionth of a second. Doc was famous for capturing on film things that happened too fast to see.

An explosion in the kiloton range. Just a firecracker, really. The fireball is 200 feet in diameter. And expanding. Thermal energy follows the guy wires down from the tower that held the bomb.

Within days or weeks (I'm not certain of the exact date of this test) the first hydrogen bomb would be exploded at Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Ten thousand kilotons, that one. Code named "Mike."

I grew up not far from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the uranium-235 for the Hiroshima bomb was separated. Big mystery about what was going on there during the war. I remember my father speculating. By 1952 we knew, of course. The bomb that obliterated Hiroshima was named "Little Boy." Mike and Little Boy. It was as if by giving these devices such innocent names we cold assuage our loss of innocence.