Dr. Joe Mascaro is Planet's Director of Science Programs

An Unthinkable Impact


When I was a boy, my father gave me a copy of Hiroshima by John Hersey. He also gave me a pencil, and told me to make a mark in the margin when I found a passage of particular interest.

When the bomb fell, and the white light flashed—repeating over and over through the perspective of Hersey’s interviewed survivors—I ticked the margin again and again. But after a few chapters of melted glass, rubbled streets and obliterated flesh, I had to put my pencil down.

Seventy years ago today, as many as one-hundred-fifty-thousand people died after a weapon of mass destruction was dropped on their breakfast tables. The geopolitical wisdom of the bomb remains a fixture of historical review. Emperor Shōwa appeared to have no intention of surrendering to conventional attack, and was preparing to mobilize a civilian force of millions to defend mainland Japan. Historians posit that Truman had his eye on the Soviets, and a vested interest in impressing upon them American superiority.

The moral wisdom is more difficult to reconcile. Today, it’s challenging to accept that American GIs carried “Little Boy” at the directive of a handful of military advisors—and that the weather not long before the attack arbitrarily fated Hiroshima to a flash-cooked hell—and that the radiation doses followed survivors for days, weeks and years afterward.

This morning, a Dove satellite slipped quietly over the epicenter of the Hiroshima attack and snapped this picture:


The image was tucked in memory for a little over five hours, and then downlinked to a web-enabled ground station. In that time, the citizens of Hiroshima ate breakfast and lunch. They read the newspaper and exchanged emails. Bought stock. Argued about politics. Boarded trains.

And they rang the Peace Bell, to remember those that perished, and renew their hope for the future. Seventy years ago, flying fortresses flew over Japan and obliterated hundreds of thousands. This morning, a dove took their picture as the Peace Bell rang.