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What is Detonation?

By Karize Uy
Updated May 17, 2024
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Detonation is the event when pressure is violently released from a contained object, causing a blast. The term is often used in topics related to bombs, engine failures, and reactive chemicals. Detonation is very similar, if not identical, to an explosion.

Oftentimes, a chemical reaction is what triggers a detonation to occur. In turn, chemical reactions happen when something sets off or unsettles the chemical. One common cause is impact, such as with percussion grenades. This kind of explosive detonates immediately after it hits an object with a strong force, causing the firing pin to pierce through the detonator that contains reactive chemicals.

In engines, extreme heat is a common cause for detonations. When heat is applied to the combustion chamber, the fuel can ignite automatically and produce several flames. These flames bump against each other, causing a detonation. If a knocking or “pinging” sound is heard, then that means a detonation engine has just occurred.

Many occurrences of detonations are accompanied by a burst of smoke or shrapnel flying in the air; they can even cause nearby bodies of water to ripple. These disturbances are called shock waves. Energy that immediately rushes out comes in the form of clouds and fires that are further propelled upwards or sideways. This can be clearly demonstrated in big nuclear explosions, where the billows of smoke create a mushroom-like shape as the lower part becomes smaller to push the upper section of the smoke upward. Sometimes, a detonation can be so powerful that a ring of clouds forms around the mushroom cloud itself.

A nuclear detonation will most likely emit considerable amounts of radiation. The radiation can collide with small objects and vaporize them, such as rocks or soil. With enough force, it can also damage or ultimately destroy buildings.

Aside from effects seen in the surrounding area, shock waves from a detonation can also cause health-related problems. One example is temporary deafness. The powerful blast can traumatize the eardrums if a person was standing too close to the explosion and was not wearing any ear protection. Particularly strong blasts can even permanently damage the eardrums.

Shock waves can also be powerful enough to ripple through the body and cause damage to the muscles and bones. Inhaled air from the smoke can injure the lungs, resulting in internal bleeding or blockage in the lungs. The heat from the radiation can also cause severe burns on the skin if a person is near the explosion.

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