An explosion is a rapid increase in volume and release of energy in an extreme manner, usually with the generation of high temperatures and the release of gases. Supersonic explosions created by high explosives are known as detonations and travel via supersonic shock waves. Subsonic explosions are created by low explosives through a slower burning process known as deflagration.
Explosions can occur in nature due to a large influx of energy. Most natural explosions arise from volcanic or stellar processes of various sorts. Explosive volcanic eruptions occur when magma rising from below has much dissolved gas in it; the reduction of pressure as the magma rises causes the gas to bubble out of solution, resulting in a rapid increase in volume. Explosions also occur as a result of impact events and in phenomena such as hydrothermal explosions (also due to volcanic processes). Explosions can also occur outside of Earth in the universe in events such as supernovae. Explosions frequently occur during bushfires in eucalyptus forests where the volatile oils in the tree tops suddenly combust.
Boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions are one type of mechanical explosion that can occur when a vessel containing a pressurized liquid is ruptured, causing a rapid increase in volume as the liquid evaporates. Note that the contents of the container may cause a subsequent chemical explosion, the effects of which can be dramatically more serious, such as a propane tank in the midst of a fire. In such a case, to the effects of the mechanical explosion when the tank fails are added the effects from the explosion resulting from the released (initially liquid and then almost instantaneously gaseous) propane in the presence of an ignition source. For this reason, emergency workers often differentiate between the two events.
The speed of the reaction is what distinguishes an explosive reaction from an ordinary combustion reaction. Unless the reaction occurs very rapidly, the thermally expanding gases will be moderately dissipated in the medium, with no large differential in pressure and no explosion. As a wood fire burns in a fireplace, for example, there certainly is the evolution of heat and the formation of gases, but neither is liberated rapidly enough to build up a sudden substantial pressure differential and then cause an explosion. This can be likened to the difference between the energy discharge of a battery, which is slow, and that of a flash capacitor like that in a camera flash, which releases its energy all at once.
When a chemical compound is formed from its constituents, heat may either be absorbed or released. The quantity of heat absorbed or given off during transformation is called the heat of formation. Heats of formations for solids and gases found in explosive reactions have been determined for a temperature of 25 └C and atmospheric pressure, and are normally given in units of kilojoules per gram-molecule. A positive value indicates that heat is absorbed during the formation of the compound from its elements; such a reaction is called an endothermic reaction. In explosive technology only materials that are exothermic┤that have a net liberation of heat and have a negative heat of formation┤are of interest. Reaction heat is measured under conditions either of constant pressure or constant volume. It is this heat of reaction that may be properly expressed as the "heat of explosion."
A reaction must be capable of being initiated by the application of shock, heat, or a catalyst (in the case of some explosive chemical reactions) to a small portion of the mass of the explosive material. A material in which the first three factors exist cannot be accepted as an explosive unless the reaction can be made to occur when needed.
Fragmentation is the accumulation and projection of particles as the result of a high explosives detonation. Fragments could originate from: parts of a structure (such as glass, bits of structural material, or roofing material), revealed strata and/or various surface-level geologic features (such as loose rocks, soil, or sand), the casing surrounding the explosive, and/or any other loose miscellaneous items not vaporized by the shock wave from the explosion. High velocity, low angle fragments can travel hundreds of metres with enough energy to initiate other surrounding high explosive items, injure or kill personnel, and/or damage vehicles or structures.