Fallen angel or holy trinity?
Trinity was the name given to the first nuclear test explosion conducted by the United States during World War II, specifically on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. The explosion was equivalent to the detonation of 20 kilotons of trinitrotoluene. Bets on its destructiveness by onlookers started from zero, to a triumphant 18 kilotons, to the destruction of all of New Mexico and the apocalyptic burning of the atmosphere and then the burning of the entire planet Earth. However, the apocalyptic scenario was calculated to be almost impossible, even the slightest admission of it meant that this path to humanity's technological advancement was not completely under control. This begs the question: Is humanity capable of continuous progress without the risk of self-destruction?
Based on the findings of the test, the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs were constructed and dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945. Plutonium was used as the fissile material to start the nuclear chain reaction. Plutonium (Pu) is the sixth member of the actinide family, the second transuranic, radioactive, chain-reaction fissile, toxic metallic element, prepared by artificially bombarding uranium (breaking the nucleus of an unstable atom by the intrusion of a foreign particle (usually a neutron) to release energy) in nuclear reactors.
Trinity by-product and its formation
The plutonium nuclear device was mounted on a 20 metre high steel tower (to simulate the explosion of a bomb in the air when dropped from an aircraft). At 05:29:21 (± 2 seconds) local time, a controlled explosion occurred. The explosion left a crater approximately 1.4 meters deep and 80 metres wide. The surface in this area was predominantly sandy, which played a significant role in the formation of the test by-product, Trinitite (also Atomsite or Atomite). Trinitite - a glassy residue that remained scattered in a radius of about 300 metres around the crater. The colour of the molten materials produced in nuclear explosions depended on the content of the material in the soil and the device that was vaporised in the explosion.Green is the typical Trinitite color from the minerals present in the sand/soils around the test area. A rare form of red Trinitite is colored by the copper electrical power cables that were part of the gadget device and fused metallic copper is sometimes present. Another rare form of Trinitite is colored black from parts of the steel gantry tower that suspended the "Gadget" device, and is sometimes found to be magnetic.
The formation of Trinitite
The shock wave at the first moment of the explosion crushed the rock beneath the tower, compressing the soil and creating a crater. This was followed by an uplift of the soil, which threw material upwards out of the crater. The molten material was ejected at low angles, and some Trinitites (e. g. dumbbell and ribbon shapes) were formed in this way. Hot gases (temperature around 8 149°C) of the vaporized rock and radioactive particles circulated in the fireball. The vaporized materials cooled and fell down as molten droplets or spheres of Trinitite. The molten Trinitite slid into the ground in puddles. The upper surface melted, the lower surface retained its spherical shape. Gases escaping from the molten Trinitite left bubbles or cavities in the material.
Where to classify Trinitite?
Trinitite is called vitreous residue. Leaving aside the similarity to other glassy residues formed after the explosion of other atomic tests or bombs, comparisons to tektites, impactites or metamorphosed rocks are suggested. The fundamental distinction from the three groups is that Trinitite was formed by human activity. It is an inherently anthropogenic rock material. Of course, the similarity of certain factors in the formation of the material, such as high pressure and temperature, cannot be denied. But not at such extremes. Another difference is the discovery of red Trinitite in the sample. It contains a previously undiscovered complex quasicrystal, the oldest known man-made quasicrystal, which consists of iron, silicon, copper and calcium. It also contains minute amounts of plutonium isotopes.
Some similarities could also be found on our natural satellite, the Moon. The geology of the Moon includes many rocks formed by one or more large impacts, which contain increasingly more volatile elements in smaller amounts the closer they are to the impact site, similar to the distribution of volatile elements in Trinitite.
Trinitite and radioactivity
Today, 77 years after the Trinity nuclear test, the handling is completely safe, unless you break Trinitite, because it can release dust or small particles that should not be eaten or inhaled. It is recommended that you wash your hands after handling it. Trinitite is slightly radioactive, but no more so than things one comes into contact with in everyday life. To give you an idea, you get more radiation from standing outside during the day.
Availability of Trinitite
Shortly after the end of World War II, visitors to the blast site began to notice the glassy remains. Glass was collected as souvenirs and even used in jewellery making. Behind this bizarre fact was people's belief that the Trinitite was merely molten sand from the direct radiant heat energy of the fireball in the explosion. Ignorance is not a sin, and therefore, after the enactment of the ban on collecting material from the site of the explosion, it is perfectly legal to possess and trade previously collected Trinitite. Trinitite is a great collector's speciality, representing mankind's mastery of the atom, a great technological advancement and the start of the nuclear arms race.
The SETI Institute, which seeks to find and study signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, said in 2021 that Trinitite is to be included in their library of items associated with "transformative moments" that might be of interest to intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations.
Mgr. Radek Šrejbr, 29. 12. 2022