Authenticating Trinitite nearly 70 years later

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Trinity_-_Explosion_15s

It has been almost 70 years since the first nuclear device known as “Trinity” was tested in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16th, 1945.

At 5:30 in the morning, the Plutonium implosion device, also known as “The Gadget” produced a blast powerful enough to send a mushroom cloud nearly 40,000 feet in the air.

The heat generated by the device was 10,000 times hotter than the surface of our sun, and could be felt by observers over 10 miles away.

Around the blast site a massive crater some 800 yards in diameter was formed, covered with a light olive green substance that would later be called “Trinitite”.  Trinitite, also known as Alamogordo glass, is actually radioactive sand that melted and fused into glass because of the extreme temperatures generated by the explosion.

A sample of Trinitite analyzed with gamma spectroscopy equipment.
A sample of Trinitite analyzed with gamma spectroscopy equipment.

Initially, Trinitite was thought to have been created by the atomic fireball produced by the explosion, but calculations would prove that the fireball could not have formed glass in the thicknesses found onsite.

It was later determined that sand was scooped up into the fireball where it aggregated into larger droplets that became too heavy to be suspended and fell in a rain of molten glass.  This molten glass rain collected to form the puddles of Trinitite found in the area.

Trinitite Sample - DR - Enformable

Trinitite samples are generally smooth on the side that was exposed to the extreme heats generated by the blast, with a coarser sandy surface on the opposite side.

In 1945, Trinitite was marketed for use in jewelry, but it was later found to cause radiation burns if worn for extended periods of time. In 1952, the Atomic Energy Commission had the test site bulldozed over, but not before collectors scavenged the site for these pieces of atomic history.

Authentic Trinitite is still mildly radioactive today as it contains materials like Cesium 137, Americium 241, Europium 152, Plutonium 239, Barium 133, Cobalt 60, and Silver 108m to name a few.

A number of different types of Trinitite have been collected over the years.  Most Trinitite is green, but black and red Trinitite have also been found.  It is thought that iron from the tower structure or copper from the gadget itself are the reasons for the discoloration of some samples.

Counterfeit Trinitite has been sold on the internet.  So if you purchase Trinitite online, how do you know whether you are getting the real thing or not?

One of the most reliable methods to determine if a sample is authentic or not is to use Gamma Spectroscopy.  Gamma Spectroscopy allows the identification of specific fission isotopes in the specimen.

One of our readers sent us a 9 gram sample of Trinitite that they had come to possess (pictured above).

The Trinitite was analyzed for 1 hour using a 2×2 NaI probe in a lead shielding well and a 4096 channel multi-channel analyzer.  The sample was observed to produce 1,115 counts per minute.

Trinitite - 707

At 59.5 keV, a peak can be seen attributed to Americium 241, which is an in-growth product of Plutonium 241.

Americium 241 (half-life 432.2 years) is produced when plutonium absorbs a neutron.

Based on the presence of Americium 241 we can also infer the presence of Plutonium 239.

The capture of two neutrons by 239Pu followed by a β-decay, results in 241Am:

PutoAm

Within 15 years, half of the original amount of Plutonium 241 decays to Americium 241 and in about 70 years the Americium 241 amount reaches its maximum in-growth.

At 121.78 keV and 344.3 keV two peaks can be seen which are attributed to Europium 152 (half-life of 13.516 years) which was produced by neutrons from the atom bomb.

Lastly, we can also easily observe the 661.65 keV peak associated with Cesium 137 (half-life 30.17 years).

We can verify that this sample is a piece of authentic Trinitite with good activity, and very visually appealing.

If you have a sample of Trinitite you would like analyzed, contact us.

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3 Comments

  1. Oh dear lord. That’s some of the nastiest, most dangerous to health waste on the planet, and people are BUYING it, even with today’s hindsight?

    1. Let’s see. A 9-gram sample gives about 20 counts per second. That is 20 Bq. According to Wikipedia, the average 160-lb person’s body contains enough potassium-40 to give 4900 Bq. I’d want to have the stuff tested if I had it around, but Get a grip.

  2. I have a small piece given to me as a gift, but now i am not sure if it is real. I would like to get it tested.

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