Ground zero

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The term ground zero (sometimes also known as surface zero[1] as distinguished from zero point[2]) describes the point on the Earth's surface closest to a detonation.[3] In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the detonation (see hypocenter).

The term has often been associated with nuclear explosions and other large bombs, but is also used in relation to earthquakes, epidemics and other disasters to mark the point of the most severe damage or destruction. The term is often re-used for disasters that have a geographic or conceptual epicenter.


Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki

The origins of the term ground zero began with the Manhattan Project and the bombing of Japan. The Strategic Bombing Survey of the atomic attacks, released in June 1946, used the term liberally, defining it as: "For convenience, the term 'ground zero' will be used to designate the point on the ground directly beneath the point of detonation, or 'air zero.'"[4] William Laurence, an embedded reporter with the Manhattan Project, reported that "Zero" was "the code name given to the spot chosen for the atomic bomb test" in 1945.[5]

The Oxford English Dictionary, citing the use of the term in a 1946 New York Times report on the destroyed city of Hiroshima, defines ground zero as "that part of the ground situated immediately under an exploding bomb, especially an atomic one."

The term was military slang, used at the Trinity site where the weapon tower for the first nuclear weapon was at "point zero", and moved into general use very shortly after the end of World War II. At Hiroshima, the hypocenter of the attack was Shima Hospital.

The Pentagon

The Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia was thought of as the most likely target of a nuclear missile strike during the Cold War. The open space in the center is informally known as ground zero, and a snack bar located at the center of this plaza was nicknamed the "Ground Zero Cafe".[6]

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