Atomic Boom: The First Nuclear Bombs

By: John Miller
Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

After the first atomic bomb test, a lead U.S. scientist commented by borrowing a line from a Hindu holy book: "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." How much do you know about the world's first nuclear weapons?

Which country developed the world's first atomic bombs?

In the 1940s, the U.S. (with help from the Allies) raced to develop atomic weapons. Officials were worried that Nazi Germany would use atomic weapons to rule the Earth.

In 1942, the U.S. secretly began a project to build atomic weapons. What was the name of the project?

The Manhattan Project was started in secret in 1942. At multiple locations around the world, the Allies began working on the science of atomic weapons, preparing the necessary ingredients for a doomsday device.

The U.S. started its mission to develop atomic bombs because of a warning from which famous person?

Albert Einstein caught wind of a German plan to make atomic weapons, and he sent a letter to U.S. leaders warning them of the Nazi plot. U.S. leaders took the warning to heart and began researching atomic technologies.

What was the code name for the very first nuclear bomb?

The first major accomplishment of the Manhattan Project was Trinity, the world's first nuclear weapon. It was tested in July 1945.

Where did the U.S. conduct the Trinity test?

U.S. scientists decided that a remote area of New Mexico would be an ideal place to detonate the Trinity bomb. The area didn't have any nearby towns and had very little wind, a fact that helped to control the radioactive fallout.

The Trinity test was obviously a secret event. How many cameras captured the history-changing explosion?

There was a special government photography group that used about 50 cameras to capture the first atomic explosion. A unique Fastax camera captured the event at an incredible 10,000 frames per second, fast enough to show minute details in the blast.

What did scientists do immediately after detonating the Trinity bomb?

Some of the team members immediately hopped into Sherman tanks and drove directly to the bomb's crater. The tanks were lined with lead to protect occupants from radiation.

The Trinity test was so bright and loud that civilians were sure to notice. What cover story did the military issue to deflect public attention?

The military knew that civilians would see signs of the explosion. They issued a press release that said an ammunition depot had exploded on accident -- but don't worry, nobody was hurt!

What was the name of the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare?

After years of research and testing, the Allies decided that there was only one way to end Japanese resistance. On August 9, 1945, they dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima.

The first atomic bomb, Little Boy, relied on what material for detonation?

Little Boy was the first nuclear weapon that leveraged a uranium-based detonation. It relied on uranium-235, an isotope that can sustain a fission chain reaction, which is critical in atomic weapons.

Little Boy was the first bomb used in an attack, and bombers were modified to carry the weapon. How long was Little Boy?

The bomb was 9,700 pounds … and 10 feet long. It had a diameter of just 28 inches. In short, its small size belied its immense destructive power.

Little Boy worked by shooting a piece of hollow uranium into what material?

The bomb worked by shooting a piece of uranium into yet more uranium. The impact triggered nuclear fission, which releases huge amounts of energy all at once.

What was the name of the plane that dropped Little Boy, the first bomb used in battle?

The Enola Gay is a modified B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped Little Boy. It was named for the mother of the aircraft's pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets.

Fat Man was the same type of bomb as Little Boy.

Little Boy relied on uranium. Fat Man, on the other hand, was an implosion-type weapon with a plutonium core. It was also bigger. It was twice the diameter of Little Boy.

Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer?

J. Robert Oppenheimer was the leader of Los Alamos Laboratory, the facility that built the first nuclear bombs. He guided one of the scariest projects of all time.

Prior to Little Boy, Hiroshima had already been nearly leveled by conventional bombing.

U.S. officials stopped bombing Hiroshima months before Little Boy. Why? They wanted to see what a nuclear weapon did to a fairly intact city.

How many people lived in Hiroshima before Little Boy detonated?

About 350,000 people (the size of modern-day Anaheim, California) lived in Hiroshima. Nearly 70,000 people died directly due to the explosion and its immediate aftermath.

Which bomb was more powerful?

Fat Man had a blast yield of around 21 kilotons, while Little Boy had a yield of 15 kilotons. Both bombs killed tens of thousands of Japanese citizens.

What was "Bockscar"?

Bockscar is the name of the B-29 bomber that dropped Fat Man, the second (and hopefully last) nuclear weapon. Following the bombing, the plane ran critically low on fuel and barely made it back to safety.

After the bombings of Japan, what word did Emperor Hirohito use to describe the bombs?

Emperor Hirohito finally issued Japan's surrender. One of the reasons for capitulation? "A new and most cruel bomb.”

Nagasaki, the second city that was attacked, was actually meant to be the very first target of an atomic bomb.

The city was never meant to be a target. After Hiroshima, the next target was Kokura. But clouds and smoke obscured Kokura from bombing crews, who then opted for a secondary target … Nagasaki.

Fat Man created a tall mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. How tall was that cloud?

Fat Man's apocalyptic mushroom cloud reached nearly 60,000 feet high. If you're doing the math, that's about 11 miles -- far, far into the stratosphere.

In a press release, which leader wrote, "The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East"?

Roosevelt was already dead when the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Japan. It was Truman who issued a press release announcing the bombings. For effect, he added: "If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth."

How much did it cost to research and construct the first atomic bombs?

The U.S. and its allies spent about $2 billion to complete the Manhattan Project. The project accomplished its goals. It created the bombs and helped to end the war.

After the war, why did scientists destroy many of the plans used to build Little Boy?

Little Boy used a terribly inefficient design, so scientists didn't see the need to keep Little Boy's plans and diagrams. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, less than a year later the U.S. was back to building Little Boy bombs.

Radioactive fallout can cause cancer in humans. How many Japanese people died from cancer in the years following the attacks?

The bombings claimed most of their victims right away. Western sources indicate that only around 2,000 Japanese died from cancer caused by the bombings.

Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki. How much of the city did it destroy?

The bomb exploded about 2,000 feet above Nagasaki. It destroyed around 45 percent of the city. It was dropped on the city's industrial center, destroying Nagasaki's ability to manufacture goods.

When Little Boy was detonated, what was the first effect witnesses noticed?

The very first noticeable effect was overwhelmingly bright light. Then came the intense heat, which caused nearly everything to burst into flame. A firestorm enveloped Hiroshima and burned for days.

In mid-1945, it was clear that Japan was going to lose the war. Why did America opt to deploy two nuclear bombs?

The official explanation was simple. The Japanese had declared their willingness to fight to the death and had prepared their civilians to put up a suicidal fight against any Allied invasion. America's use of overwhelming force was meant to change their minds.

An entire Little Boy assembly (sans uranium) was on display in a museum until the 1980s.

The Smithsonian Institution did, in fact, have a complete Little Boy bomb until 1986. Even though there was no nuclear material in the bomb, officials decided that having a nuclear weapon in a public place was probably a bad idea, so the innards were removed.

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