Did you know you could bet on the death of humanity during the Trinity bomb test?

The Trinity explosion 25 milliseconds after detonation
(Photo: U.S. Government Defense Threat Reduction Agency)
People working in a stressful environment need a way to let off some steam – even those people are some of the world's greatest nuclear physicists, and the stressful environment is the construction of the world's first atomic bomb. On July 16, 1945, the "Gadget," the first atomic bomb in history, was detonated in the Trinity test at 5:29 am on White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. Assumably and understandably tense, the observers spent the time leading up to the test detonation by taking bets.
Observation bunker at the Trinity test site
(Photo: atomicarchive.com)
One bet was about the strength of the upcoming explosion, with wagers ranging from nothing (a failure to detonate) to 45 kilotons, the latter from Hungarian-born physicist Edward Teller. Italian-born physicist Enrico Fermi, who created the world's first nuclear reactor, had a slightly darker wager in mind. If you've seen this year's film Oppenheimer, you already know that some physicists working on the Manhattan Project thought there was a tiny chance that the detonation could ignite the Earth's atmosphere. Fermi proposed to start a wager about whether this would happen, and on how much damage it would cause: whether it would "only" destroy the state or incinerate the entire planet.
Fermi (center) with fellow Manhattan Project scientists Ernest Lawrence and Isidor Isaac Rabi
(Photo: Department of Energy)
Not content with betting against his fellow scientists, Fermi also started asking the military personnel present. Not having a scientific background, some of the guards were so frightened by the question that they asked to be relieved, infuriating the test's director, physicist Kenneth Bainbridge. For his part, Bainbridge's biggest fear was that the bomb failed to detonate, because then he would have had to go back out to the tower and have a look at the malfunctioning bomb up close.
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