10 ton bomb, 10 tonne bomb, 50 megaton, ACME, Acoustics, black hole, deflagration, detonation, explosions, explosive, explosives, Grand Slam Bomb, kiloton, megaton, pressure, RAF, TNT, tsar bomba, Wiley Coyote
Rather fittingly, the pressure is on for me to write this because it’s been quite a while! So lets talk about detonations and real explosions, with a little bit of the science and terminology first.
You’ll remember from part 1 that deflagrations are pressure waves in atmosphere created by the burning of the material. The continuation of the deflagration is due to heat transfer through the material at a “slow” speed which results in increasing air pressures in enclosed spaces. Now detonations, that we’re covering here are completely different animals. Detonations will occur even in cold temperatures, because the explosion continues through the material due to the pressure wave. The pressure wave itself causes the detonation.
There are plenty of materials that detonate, but I’ll just look at a few big ones for you, so you only get the interesting ones. Starting small with (possibly) the most famous explosive there is – TNT. For those who care, TNT means trinitrotoluene. TNT is a “safe” explosive, because it is quite difficult for it to explode accidentally but the principal reason for mentioning it here is that its’ used as the standard measure for explosive power. Everyone of a certain age will recognise this guy though, who loved (and hated) TNT. (If you don’t recognise Wiley Coyote, you NEED to go and look him up)
Until 2017, the largest non-nucelar bomb to ever have been used was a conventional explosive bomb used in World War 2 by the RAF, called the “Grand Slam” – a 10,000kg earthquake bomb. The actual weight of explosives in the bombs was only 4,144kg though. Only 42 were dropped during the War, with the first being dropped on 14th March 1945, towards the end of the war. The 4,144kg of explosive was more powerful than TNT, and the blast yield was rated as 6,500kg TNT equivalent. Here’s what they looked like:
But since we’re talking real explosions today, lets go big. 6.5 tonnes is a LOT of weight for explosives. That’s probably 3 times the weight of your car – if not more and you can see the men for scale. But lets go big, significantly bigger than you can comprehend. This bang is from the biggest bomb ever built.
At 8m long, 2.1m in diameter (26′ 3″ long and 6’11” diameter), this thing is HUGE. It weighed roughly 27 tonnes, and to try and explain the enormity of it’s power, I need to explain some simple nomenclature first – sorry!
1 tonne = 1 tonne
1 kiloton = 1,000 tonnes
1 megaton = 1,000,000 tonnes
That wasn’t so scary was it? So far, conventional explosions we’ve discussed have been rated in tonnes. But we’re now going to skip past kilo-tonnes, and straight to mega-tonnes for the biggest bomb ever, which was in fact a hydrogen bomb. I don’t want to go into technical details on this – though I will if any of you would like me to! But this bomb had a yield of 50 Mega-Tonnes. And it could be increased to an ENORMOUS 100 Mega-Tonnes. You’re just here for a picture though, so here you go!
The Tsar Bomba. The red centre is from the explosion itself, and the white ring that dominates the image is actually clouds being made by the explosion. The shockwave was sufficiently high pressure to condense the water vapour out of the air, it literally squeezed the water out of the air. This thing was so enormously huge its impossible to describe. Just try and get your head around the following graphic for the height of the mushroom cloud!
I better get back to acoustics really. The shockwave was measured circling the globe, not once or even twice. The shockwave was measured around the planet separately three times! It reportedly damaged windows 900km (560 miles) away from the epicentre of the explosion. That means if you blew it up over San Diego (CA), it would damage windows in (and beyond) Sacramento (CA). If you’re on the East coast, that would mean an explosion over Indianapolis would cause damage in Washington DC and also in Kansas City (remember it’s a blast damage RADIUS of 560 miles). Try and let that sink in, because that’s a 16 hour drive from one side of the blast radius to the other…
So yeah, there you go. This biggest, and most ridiculously enormous bomb ever to be detonated on the Planet Earth. So big we can’t even comprehend the scale of the damage this thing could do in it’s 50 Megaton configuration, and it was possible to increase it to a 100 Megaton yield.
I know I’m a blast noise expert but… I can’t comprehend the calculations required to try and work out what’s going on at such an enormous scale and I don’t know anyone who could. I hope you’ve found it interesting though, and if you have any suggestions then please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
That’s not the sun, it’s the fireball from the Tsar Bomba. And it’s 5 miles across. Enjoy