How Did Kodak Detect the World’s First Nuclear Bomb?

In 1945, the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project detonated the world's first nuclear explosion. This test was highly confidential and remained so for several years, and yet, Kodak figured out what happened long before the truth became public knowledge.

Derek Muller of Veritasium is famed for his insightful videos into a huge range of science-related topics, and this one brings together nuclear bombs and photography in a way that few could imagine. The details of the project and its huge explosion were kept secret, so how could Kodak possibly know what had taken place from 2,000 miles away?

The test produced some of the 20th century’s most iconic photographs: both the black and white and color imagery of the huge mushroom cloud above the Jornada del Muerto desert that emerged went on to shape public consciousness, almost mirroring the threat of nuclear war that hung over the Cold War era. You can see a series of the images over at the Atomic Archive.

Robert J. Oppenheimer, one of the lead scientists working on the Manhattan Project, quoted Hindu scripture as he reflected on the experiment: “Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

Lead image: United States Department of Energy, public domain.

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Nada Ivanova's picture

very interesting

Deleted Account's picture

Not really interested enough to watch a 13-minute video no the subject. My best guess would be that a bunch of film got fogged by radiation... Can someone just answer with the TLDW?

Alan Adams's picture

If you just want to know about how Kodak found out, it was due to batches of xray film having exposure dots on them straight out of the packaging. They tested the packaging and found elements that could only be produced by atomic explosions. This fstoopper article really is not doing the video justice. The video is more about how the government and kodak decided to keep the testing secret while exposing millions of Americans to nuclear fallout from the testing. TLDR the government felt that the film was in more danger the the public.

Paul Asselin's picture

Excellent video. I already knew some of the background but I learned a lot from this.