The explosion created a brilliant flash that was seen in three states — New Mexico history professor Ferenc Morton Szasz

 

 

(Eighty years ago in June 1942, J. Robert Oppenheimer selected the site of what had been the Los Alamos Boys School as the place for a top-secret scientific laboratory, where the atomic bomb was ultimately built. The U.S. then used the technology to bomb Japan into submission after Little Boy, utilizing uranium, and Fat Man, utilizing plutonium, were dropped in August 1945, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan officially surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, ending World War II.)

Alana McGrattan, left, and Linnet Thompson peruse a story about Trinitite that involved McGrattan’s uncle, Wallace Smith. That’s a box of Trinitite in the foreground. Gary Herron / Observer

CORRALES —  That was quite an explosion in southern New Mexico early on the morning of July 16, 1945, throwing huge quantities of sand into the air, where it became liquified instantly from the heat of that explosion, estimated at the equivalent of 21 kilotons of TNT.

“The explosion created a brilliant flash that was seen in three states. It lit up the sky like the sun, throwing out a multicolored cloud that surged 38,000 feet into the atmosphere within about seven minutes. … Every living thing within the radius of a mile was annihilated — plants, snakes, ground squirrels, lizards, even the ants. The stench of the death lingered about the area for three weeks,” wrote former University of New Mexico history professor Ferenc Morton Szasz in his 1984 book, “The Day the Sun Rose Twice.”

By the time it had cooled down, what was once sand was now glassy, green hunks, termed atomsite first, or Alamogordo glass, before becoming better known as Trinitite. On Sept. 9, 1945, when the media visited the test site, it was noted that the “sea of glass” (Trinitite) stretched out to a radius of at least 400 feet, and newsmen picked up a lot of it — making sure, using a Geiger counter, they weren’t radioactive souvenirs.

Trinitite even landed in Corrales, of course, many years later — and Corraleseño Linnet Thompson has a large collection of it. She’s planning to sell it Saturday near the Trinity Site, which will be open to visitors.

Except for the pandemic years, the site is open annually on the first Saturdays of April and October.

“I inherited a large amount of Trinitite from a gentleman that worked at Sandia Labs in the 1940s,” Thompson explained. “The story of this collection and how I received it is in a book ‘Trinitite: The New Age Mineral,’ which is a very good book that was written by William Kolb, a scientist who I sent this collection to, to be authenticated.”

That gentleman was Wallace Smith, who lived in Corrales when he was at the labs. While there between 1947 and 1950, he amassed a collection of about 200 pounds of Trinitite, and a portion of that is what Thompson wound up with.

For many years, it was in an outbuilding in Corrales, and Thompson later rented a room on the property from Smith’s niece, Alana McGrattan.

This is Linnet Thompson’s box of Trinitite, a rock created from the Trinity Site atomic bomb test. Gary Herron / Observer

Since 1952, it has been illegal to remove anything from the Trinity site; the Trinitite Thompson owns — and sells — is from a set collected in 1951 by Ralph Pray right before the site was bulldozed over in 1952, with the remaining Trinitite buried in 55-gallon drums near Los Alamos.

“Exposure to the radioactivity had no noticeable effect on me, my children or my grandchildren,” Pray wrote a half-century after he’d made four trips to retrieve the assortment of Trinitite. “If we fail to practice international brotherhood, what remains of Trinity Site, this speck of a surface scar, this atomic afterbirth, may someday become the most hated place on earth.”

It is legal to own Trinitite, and people can display it and handle it safely. Do not break the Trinitite into smaller pieces because it may release dust or small particles; keep it away from children or pets who might ingest it; and wash your hands after handling it.