Nagasaki Mushroom Cloud / Unknown
U.S. Army Air Force
August 9, 1945
Gelatin silver print
11 7/8 x 6 7/8 in.
Questions for Teaching

• This was a press print. This image was used repeatedly by the New York Times from 1945 through the mid-1990s. Where can you find proof of this by examining the condition of the photograph? (The lines that are drawn on it indicate how the picture would have been cropped for various printings.)

• From what point of view are we looking at the atomic bomb blast?

• Where was the photographer located when he or she took this photograph? Why do you think the photographer took the image from this vantage point? (The image was taken from the air from one of the planes on the mission that delivered the bomb to Nagasaki.)

• Does this the image emphasize or de-emphasize the destructive power of the bomb? How?

• A reporter for the New York Times who accompanied the mission wrote of the scene, "Awestruck, we watched it shoot upward like a meteor coming from the earth instead of from outer space, becoming ever more alive as it climbed skyward through the white clouds. It was no longer smoke, or dust, or even a cloud of fire. It was a living thing, a new species of being, born right before our incredulous eyes."

• What do you think the reporter meant when he described the bomb as "a living thing, a new species of being, born right before our incredulous eyes"?

Background Information

Timeline: The Atomic Bomb [RTF download - 73KB]

On August 9, 1945, the United States detonated an atomic bomb on the Japanese port of Nagasaki. The mission was sent to destroy the arsenal at Kokura, Japan, but due to heavy cloud cover it moved to the secondary target of Nagasaki. At the time, Nagasaki was a major port city and naval shipyard. At 11:02 a.m., the B-29 Superfortress, nicknamed Bockscar, dropped a plutonium bomb code-named "Fat Man." When the bomb exploded some 1,500 feet over Nagasaki, it did so with a force equal to roughly 20,000 tons of dynamite. While estimates on the death toll differ, around 40,000 were killed by the initial blast. It is estimated that another 30,000 died due to the effects of radiation in the aftermath of the explosion, with some deaths occuring many years later.

It is not known exactly who made this photograph of the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki. It is assumed that this photo was made by a U.S. Army Air Force serviceman on the mission to document the nuclear device.