Falling rocks explode more violently than any non-nuclear bomb

Extreme’ rockfalls can explode more violently than a BOMB and create shockwaves that snap trees hundreds of feet away

  • ‘Extreme’ rockfalls are triggered when masses of rock fall hundreds of feet
  • They create huge dust clouds that can spread hundreds of metres, study finds 
  • The impact releases more energy than the MOAB – the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb 

Falling rocks can explode with such violent force that the blasts are only topped by nuclear bombs.

The power produced by large falling rocks creates shockwaves that can snap tress hundreds of feet away, according to a new study.

These ‘extreme’ rockfalls are caused when a mass of rock four times the size of an Olympic swimming pool falls hundreds of feet.

Scientists warned that the deadly events, which have in the past levelled hundreds of trees with a single explosion, are more common than first thought.

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Falling rocks can explode with such violent force that the blasts are only topped by nuclear bombs. The power produced by large falling rocks creates shockwaves that can snap tress hundreds of feet away, according to a new study (stock image)

Researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy investigated reports of ‘extremely energetic’ rockfalls spanning more than two decades.

They attempted to characterise the falls – which have rarely been witnessed by humans – for the first time.

‘They’re extremely weird phenomena, which have been somehow overlooked,’ study lead author Dr Fabio De Blasio told New Scientist.


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‘Typically they will develop in areas where erosion has been quite fast.’

Most of the 22 falls confirmed by the team occurred in European Alps and the Dolomites in Italy.

The first known example took place in Yosemite National Park, California, in July 1996, when two huge masses of rock fell 2,180 feet (665 metres) from Glacier Point.

This video shows the explosive impact of a small rockfall triggered by two men rolling a huge rock off a cliff. The rockfalls examined in the new study were thousands of times more powerful than the impact shown

The impact levelled 1,000 trees – some more than half a mile away – and produced a heavy cloud of abrasive sand.

Researchers said extreme rockfalls are characterised by large clouds of dust produced by the obliterated stone.

This requires a rock with a volume of at least 10,000 cubic metres picking up speed by falling several hundred feet, they found.

Based on their calculations, the researchers showed these extreme rockfalls can release more than 80 billion joules of energy: more than any non-nuclear bomb.

Extreme rockfalls are more powerful than the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) – the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed – which released 47 billion joules of energy when it was dropped by US forces on Afghanistan in April 2017 (pictured)

This includes the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) – the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed – which released 47 billion joules of energy when it was dropped by US forces on Afghanistan in April 2017.

Almost a fifth of the energy released by an extreme rockfall shreds the rock to dust, while the rest powers the shockwaves and dust cloud, calculations showed.

Based on their research, scientists said the explosive events are more common around the world than first thought.

They present a danger to anyone unlucky enough to be stood near to the 100-meter-per-second blast, which would hit with the force of a pyroclastic flow from a volcano.

The dust clouds produced by the  falls can spread for a mile and last for days, potentially obscuring nearby roads.

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