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

Detonation involves an exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. They 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 far clearer resolution of the wave system in the latter.

Gaseous detonations normally occur in confined systems but are occasionally observed in large vapor clouds. Again, 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, fuller lists are given by both Stull[2] and Bretherick[3]. Oxidants include halogens, ozone, hydrogen peroxide and oxides of nitrogen and chlorine.

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 by Nettleton.[4]



French d├ętoner, 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]

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.[10][11]

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.[12] The influence of increasing the concentration of diluent on expanding individual detonation cells has been elegantly demonstrated.[13] Similarly their size grows as the initial pressure falls.[14] 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.[15][16] To date none has adequately described how structure is formed and sustained behind unconfined waves.


A pulsed detonation engine ground demonstrator operating at a frequency of 35 Hz (35 detonation waves per second). Fuel and oxidizer are supplied to the engine using a valving system that matches with the operating frequency.

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[17] or cleaning of equipment (i.e., slag removal[18]). Pulse detonation engines utilize the detonation wave for aerospace propulsion.[19] The first flight of an aircraft powered by a pulse detonation engine took place at the Mojave Air & Space Port on January 31, 2008.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Fickett and Davis, 'Detonation', Univ. California Press, (1979).
  2. ^ Stull, Fundamentals of fire and explosion, A.I.Chem.E., Monograph Series 10,73 (1977)
  3. ^ Bretherick, 'Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards, Butterworths, London, (1979)
  4. ^ Nettleton, 'Gaseous Detonations: Their Nature, Effects and Control', Butterworths, London, (1987).
  5. ^ Zel'dovich and Kompaneets, 'Theory of Detonation', Academic Press, New York, (1960).
  6. ^ von Neumann, Progress report on the theory of detonation waves, OSRD Report No. 549.
  7. ^ Doring, Ann.Physik, 43,421, (1943).
  8. ^ Chapman, Phil.Mag.,47,90, (1899).
  9. ^ Jouguet, J.Maths Pure Appl.,7,347, (1905).
  10. ^ Edwards, D.H., Thomas, G.O., and Nettleton, M.A., "The Diffraction of a Planar Detonation Wave at an Abrupt Area Change," Journal of Fluid Mechanics, Vol. 95, No. 1, pp. 79-96, 1979.
  11. ^ Edwards, Nettleton and Thomas, 'Gas Dynamics of Detonations and Explosions', Vol.75 of Prog. in Astro. and Aero., (1981).
  12. ^ Nettleton, Fire Prev.Sci.and Tech., No23,29, (1980).
  13. ^ Munday, G., Ubbelohde, A.R., and Wood, I.F., "Fluctuating Detonation in Gases," Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 306, pp. 171-178, 1968.
  14. ^ Barthel, H.O., "Predicted Spacings in Hydrogen-Oxygen-Argon Detonations," Physics of Fluids, Vol. 17, No. 8, pp. 1547-1553, 1974.
  15. ^ Oran and Boris, 'Numerical Simulation of Reactive Flows', Elsevier Publishers, (1987)
  16. ^ Sharpe, G.J., and Quirk, J.J., "Nonlinear cellular dynamics of the idealized detonation model: Regular cells," Combustion Theory and Modelling, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 1-21, 2008.
  17. ^ Nikolaev, Yu.A., Vasil'ev, A.A., and Ul'yanitskii, B.Yu., "Gas Detonation and it's Application in Engineering and Technologies (Review), Combustion, Explosion, and Shock Waves, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 382-410, 2003.
  18. ^ Huque, Z., Ali, M.R., and Kommalapati, R., "Application of pulse detonation technology for boiler slag removal," Fuel Processing Technology, Vol. 90, No. 4, pp. 558-569, 2009.
  19. ^ Kailasanath, K., "Review of Propulsion Applications of Detonation Waves," AIAA Journal, Vol. 39, No. 9, pp. 1698-1708, 2000.
  20. ^ Norris, G., "Pulse Power: Pulse Detonation Engine-powered Flight Demonstration Marks Milestone in Mojave," Aviation Week & Space Technology, Vol. 168, No. 7, pp. 60, 2008.

External Links

GALCIT Explosion Dynamics Laboratory Detonation Database



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