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How does a pressure wave work? The physics behind the phenomenon

On August 4, the world was shaken by a terrifying explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. The explosion has reportedly killed at least 30 people and injured 2,500 others. Early reports indicated that the explosion was caused by a fire in a fireworks warehouse. However, according to officials from the Lebanese government, the explosion broke out in a warehouse where the government stored “highly explosive materials”.

One of the most shocking parts of the event’s videos is not only the size of the explosion, but also the shock wave that broke out and knocked the audience away from the explosion itself. How exactly do shock waves happen and how dangerous are they? Here’s what you need to know.

What is an explosion?

To put it simply, an explosion is a rapid increase in energy in a small space. In fireworks, for example, the chemicals in the fireworks quickly generate a lot of gas, and since the gas is generated in a confined space, it is expressed in the form of an explosion.

What is a shock wave?

Sound is a kind of wave. If you make a noise, e.g. For example, by tapping on a table or screaming, you create waves that move through the surrounding medium, such as air or water, at the speed of sound.

However, if something moves faster than the speed of sound, it creates shock waves. The waves cannot escape from the source of the wave and stack on top of each other, creating a powerful wave front. This is the reason for the “Sonic Boom” sound associated with things like jets that break the sound barrier.

When a highly explosive detonates, the pressure rises so quickly that the waves move faster than the sound and generate a shock wave.

Due to the considerable pressure of explosive waves, they can damage structures and bodies beyond the fiery part of an explosion. Pressure waves can be particularly harmful to “air-filled” organs such as lungs or ears.

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