Before long a professor of electrical engineering from MIT named Harold Eugene "Doc" Edgerton invented the rapatronic camera, a device capable of capturing images from the fleeting instant directly following a nuclear explosion. These single-use cameras were able to snap a photo one ten-millionth of a second after detonation from about seven miles away, with an exposure time of as little as ten nanoseconds. At that instant, a typical fireball had already reached about 100 feet in diameter, with temperatures three times hotter than the surface of the sun.
Edgerton was a pioneer in high-speed photography, receiving a bronze medal from the Royal Photographic Society in 1934 for his work in strobe photography. He used the technique to photograph many events that typical cameras were much too slow to capture, such as the instant of a balloon bursting, and bullets impacting various materials. He developed the rapatronic camera about ten years later, for the specific purpose of photographing nuclear explosions for the government.
As you've probably noticed, if one takes two pieces of polarized glass (such as the lenses from polarized sunglasses) and lays them atop one another at 90° angles, no light is able to pass through. This is because each one filters out light which is not polarized to its polarization axis, so the combination of the two lenses filters out 100% of the light. Edgerton 's rapatronic camera appears to have used this property in combination with a Kerr cell-- a nifty and obscure optical element which rotates light's plane of polarization when a high-voltage field is applied.
The resulting extraordinary photographs revealed intricate details of the first instant of an atomic explosion, including a few surprises such as irregular "mottling" caused primarily by variations in the density of the bomb's casing. It also showed the detail of the "rope trick effect," where the rapid vaporization of support cables caused curious lines to emanate from the bottom of an explosion. But even aside from the scientific utility of the images, they certainly show that these fantastically destructive nuclear fireballs have a hauntingly beautiful side, even if it only lasts for one ten-millionth of a second.