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Detonation of the 500-ton TNT explosive charge as part of Operation Sailor Hat. The initial shock wave is visible on the water surface and a shock condensation cloud is visible overhead.

Detonation involves a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. Detonations are observed in both conventional solid and liquid explosives,[1] as well as in reactive gases. The velocity of detonations in solid and liquid explosives is much higher than that in gaseous ones, which allows the wave system to be observed with greater detail (higher resolution).

Gaseous detonations normally occur in confined systems but are occasionally observed in large vapor clouds. They are often associated with a gaseous mixture of fuel and oxidant of a composition, somewhat below conventional flammability limits. There is an extraordinary variety of fuels that may be present as gases, as droplet fogs and as dust suspensions. Other materials, such as acetylene, ozone and hydrogen peroxide are detonable in the absence of oxygen; a more complete list is given by both Stull[2] and Bretherick.[3] Oxidants include halogens, ozone, hydrogen peroxide and oxides of nitrogen.

In terms of external damage, it is important to distinguish between detonations and deflagrations where the exothermic wave is subsonic and maximum pressures are at most a quarter[citation needed] of those generated by the former. Processes involved in the transition between deflagration and detonation are covered thoroughly for gasses by Nettleton.[4]


French détoner, to explode; from Latin detonare, to expend thunder; from de-, ~off + tonare, to thunder.


The simplest theory to predict the behavior of detonations in gases is known as Chapman-Jouguet (CJ) theory, developed around the turn of the 20th century. This theory, described by a relatively simple set of algebraic equations, models the detonation as a propagating shock wave accompanied by exothermic heat release. Such a theory confines the chemistry and diffusive transport processes to an infinitely thin zone.

A more complex theory was advanced during World War II independently by Zel'dovich, von Neumann, and W. Doering.[5][6][7] This theory, now known as ZND theory, admits finite-rate chemical reactions and thus describes a detonation as an infinitely thin shock wave followed by a zone of exothermic chemical reaction. With a reference frame of a stationary shock, the following flow is subsonic, so that an acoustic reaction zone follows immediately behind the lead front, the Chapman-Jouguet condition.[8][9] There is also some evidence that the reaction zone is semi-metallic in some explosives.[10]

Both theories describe one-dimensional and steady wave fronts. However, in the 1960s, experiments revealed that gas-phase detonations were most often characterized by unsteady, three-dimensional structures, which can only in an averaged sense be predicted by one-dimensional steady theories. Indeed, such waves are quenched as their structure is destroyed.[11][12] The Wood-Kirkwood detonation theory can correct for some of these limitations.[13]

Experimental studies have revealed some of the conditions needed for the propagation of such fronts. In confinement, the range of composition of mixes of fuel and oxidant and self-decomposing substances with inerts are slightly below the flammability limits and for spherically expanding fronts well below them.[14] The influence of increasing the concentration of diluent on expanding individual detonation cells has been elegantly demonstrated.[15] Similarly their size grows as the initial pressure falls.[16] Since cell widths must be matched with minimum dimension of containment, any wave overdriven by the initiator will be quenched.

Mathematical modeling has steadily advanced to predicting the complex flow fields behind shocks inducing reactions.[17][18] To date none has adequately described how structure is formed and sustained behind unconfined waves.


The main cause of damage from explosive devices is due to a supersonic blast front (a powerful shock wave) in the surrounding area. Therefore, the detonation is primarily associated with explosives and the acceleration of various projectiles. However, detonation waves may also be utilized for less destructive purposes like deposition of coatings to a surface[19] or cleaning of equipment (e.g. slag removal[20]). Pulse detonation engines utilize the detonation wave for aerospace propulsion.[21] The first flight of an aircraft powered by a pulse detonation engine took place at the Mojave Air & Space Port on January 31, 2008.[22]

In engines and firearms[edit]

Unintentional detonation when deflagration is desired is a problem in some devices. In internal combustion engines it is called engine knocking or pinging, and causes loss of power and excessive heating of certain components. In firearms, it may cause catastrophic and possibly lethal failure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fickett; Davis (1979). Detonation. Univ. California Press. ISBN 978-0486414560. 
  2. ^ Stull (1977). Fundamentals of fire and explosion. Monograph Series 10. A.I.Chem.E. p. 73. 
  3. ^ Bretherick (1979). Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards. London: Butterworths. ISBN 9780123725639. 
  4. ^ Nettleton (1987). Gaseous Detonations: Their Nature, Effects and Control. London: Butterworths. ISBN 978-0412270406. 
  5. ^ Zel'dovich; Kompaneets (1960). Theory of Detonation. New York: Academic Press. ASIN B000WB4XGE. 
  6. ^ von Neumann. Progress report on the theory of detonation waves, OSRD Report No. 549 (Report).
  7. ^ Doring, W. (1943). "Über den Detonationsvorgang in Gasen". Annalen der Physik 43 (6–7): 421. Bibcode:1943AnP...435..421D. doi:10.1002/andp.19434350605. 
  8. ^ Chapman, David Leonard (January 1899). "On the rate of explosion in gases". Philosophical Magazine. Series 5 (London: Taylor & Francis) 47 (284): 90–104. doi:10.1080/14786449908621243. ISSN 1941-5982. LCCN sn86025845. 
  9. ^ Jouguet, Jacques Charles Emile (1905). "Sur la propagation des réactions chimiques dans les gaz" [On the propagation of chemical reactions in gases]. Journal des Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées. 6 1: 347–425.  Continued in Continued in Jouguet, Jacques Charles Emile (1906). Journal des Mathématiques Pures et Appliquées. 6 2: 5–85. 
  10. ^ Reed, Evan J.; Riad Manaa, M.; Fried, Laurence E.; Glaesemann, Kurt R.; Joannopoulos, J. D. (2007). "A transient semimetallic layer in detonating nitromethane". Nature Physics 4 (1): 72–76. Bibcode:2008NatPh...4...72R. doi:10.1038/nphys806. 
  11. ^ Edwards, D.H., Thomas, G.O., and Nettleton, M.A. (1979). "The Diffraction of a Planar Detonation Wave at an Abrupt Area Change". Journal of Fluid Mechanics 95 (1): 79–96. Bibcode:1979JFM....95...79E. doi:10.1017/S002211207900135X. 
  12. ^ D. H. Edwards; G. O. Thomas; M. A. Nettleton (1981). "Diffraction of a Planar Detonation in Various Fuel-Oxygen Mixtures at an Area Change". In A. K. Oppenheim; N. Manson; R.I. Soloukhin; J.R. Bowen. Progress in Astronautics & Aeronautics 75: 341. doi:10.2514/5.9781600865497.0341.0357. ISBN 978-0-915928-46-0. 
  13. ^ Glaesemann, Kurt R.; Fried, Laurence E. (2007). "Improved wood–kirkwood detonation chemical kinetics". Theoretical Chemistry Accounts 120 (1–3): 37–43. doi:10.1007/s00214-007-0303-9. 
  14. ^ Nettleton (1980). Fire prevention science and technology (Fire Prevention Society (UK)) (23): 29. ISSN 0305-7844. 
  15. ^ Munday, G., Ubbelohde, A.R., and Wood, I.F. (1968). "Fluctuating Detonation in Gases". Proceedings of the Royal Society A 306 (1485): 171–178. Bibcode:1968RSPSA.306..171M. doi:10.1098/rspa.1968.0143. 
  16. ^ Barthel, H. O. (1974). "Predicted Spacings in Hydrogen-Oxygen-Argon Detonations". Physics of Fluids 17 (8): 1547–1553. Bibcode:1974PhFl...17.1547B. doi:10.1063/1.1694932. 
  17. ^ Oran; Boris (1987). Numerical Simulation of Reactive Flows. Elsevier Publishers. 
  18. ^ Sharpe, G.J., and Quirk, J.J. (2008). "Nonlinear cellular dynamics of the idealized detonation model: Regular cells". Combustion Theory and Modelling 12 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1080/13647830701335749. 
  19. ^ Nikolaev, Yu.A., Vasil'ev, A.A., and Ul'yanitskii, B.Yu. (2003). "Gas Detonation and its Application in Engineering and Technologies (Review)". Combustion, Explosion, and Shock Waves 39 (4): 382–410. doi:10.1023/A:1024726619703. 
  20. ^ Huque, Z., Ali, M.R., and Kommalapati, R. (2009). "Application of pulse detonation technology for boiler slag removal". Fuel Processing Technology 90 (4): 558–569. doi:10.1016/j.fuproc.2009.01.004. 
  21. ^ Kailasanath, K. (2000). "Review of Propulsion Applications of Detonation Waves". AIAA Journal 39 (9): 1698–1708. Bibcode:2000AIAAJ..38.1698K. doi:10.2514/2.1156. 
  22. ^ Norris, G. (2008). "Pulse Power: Pulse Detonation Engine-powered Flight Demonstration Marks Milestone in Mojave". Aviation Week & Space Technology 168 (7): 60. 

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