The world's biggest explosion.

What is the biggest explosion the Earth has ever seen? I’m looking for three answers: The biggest explosion in power terms; the biggest/most spectuacular fireball; and the biggest man-made explosion.

I think we should discount the early-Earth period when the Solar System was being formed and lots of massive bits of rock were smashing into each other. The answer might be a tad predicatble otherwise.

Actually scratch that last comment. Include the lot if it takes your fancy. Every Earth shaking boom please.


Well… digging through my 1996 edition of the Guiness Book of Records

The largest thermonuclear device ever exploded was a 57-megaton weapon tested at Novaya Zemlya (USSR) on October 30, 1961.

The largest conventional bomb ever used was a 42,000 pound bomb test-dropped over Muroc Dry Lake, CA in 1949.

For accidental explosions, a boat loaded with munitions exploded in Halifax on Dec. 6, 1917, killing over 1600 people.

The greatest volcanic explosion was the eruption of Krakatoa on August 27, 1883, which was “about 26 times as powerful as the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested.” Using the above figures, that gives us a blast equivalent to 1,482 million tons of TNT.


How about the Tunguska Incident?

Basically some kind of object from space (asteroid, comet?) exploded over some remote region of Siberia in 1919-ish. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details.

Leaving out asteroid impacts such as the one that is thought by some to be responsible for the creation of the moon, I’d have thought that Volcanic incidents are the most likely candidates.

In power terms you may have to narrow this down since Basaltic flow volcanoes are the biggest on these terms but wether they qualify as explosions is rather fuzzy, there are immense lava sheets in Siberia, India - possibly the most recent at around 65 million years old, Australia, South America, North America.

These are likely to be responsible for mass extinction events, as an illustration there was a far smaller Basltic flow event in Iceland(but still the largest in human existance) called Laki, which changed the Northern hemisphere climate for decades afterwards.

Here is a link

Toba in Indonesia was bigger still but homo-sapiens were not around then though their ancestors were.

There was a huge and very explosive event in New Zealand, Taupo that has been dated as being something almost within recorded history(around 5000 years ago) and might be a possible candidate.This is quoted by many of the sites I have visited as being the largest in human history-as an explosive event.

There have been much larger events still, Yellowstone Park is effectively one ginormous cladera and when it went off around 600million years ago is reckoned to have been in the order of 1000 times more powerful than Mount St Helens, methinks that is a very likely supect.

[Barbera Windsor innuendo) Ooer, guv, that’s ever such a[/Barbera Windsor innuendo] big one

Another theory is that Nikola Tesla was trying to use a massive electric charge to create an artificial Aurora Borealis and missed.

IIRC, the largest accidental explosion in the US was a freighter of ammonium nitrate in 1947 at Texas City, TX.

Are you considering recorded history, or do you want to consider history on a geologic scale? You’d have to consider meteor strikes, like the size of strikes they call “extinction class events.” As I understand it, geologists discovered a meteor strike just off the Yucatan in Mexico, possibly the one that extincted the dinosaurs. Other large strikes are still visible, like the small circular bay at the south of Hudson Bay, or Meteor Crater in Arizona. I wonder if anyone has estimated the energy released in these known meteor strikes and looked for the largest strike.
Anyway, there is some controversy now that maybe it wasn’t a meteor and an extinction level event that killed off the dinosaurs. Some scientists think the normal level of volcanic activity was so heavy it could have extincted them on its own. Imagine a dozen Krakatoas going off over a month and that’s all it would take. I bet there were some recordbreaking volcano explosions back then, but we’ll never know.

On a June evening in 1178, five British monks saw the moon’s northeastern limb sprout a cloud of fire and hot coals. Their account was chronicled in the extensive records of another monk named Gervase in Canterbury, England. Today, meteor scholars have identified this event with the 125,000-megaton explosion that carved the crater known as Giordano Bruno at roughly 36° N, 102° E on the moon’s northeastern limb.

From the chronicle of Gervaise:

Naw, Attrayant, I think the OP was just asking about explosions which occured on the Earth. If you’re just talking about explosions seen from the Earth, then I’ve got a few supernovae to trump your lunar impact.

For the world’s largest man-made non nuclear explosion.It was 1958, in the Seymour Narrows adjacent to Vancouver Island where 1375 tons of explosives were packed into a small island called Ripple Rock, busting up 370,000 tons of rock and setting off a 25 foot tidal wave which rapidly dissipitated. The rock was a serious navigation hazard. In the summer I see countless cruise ships traversing over this site back and forth between Seattle/Vancouver and Alaska.

Rastahomie said:

How about the Tunguska Incident?

Basically some kind of object from space (asteroid, comet?) exploded over some remote region of Siberia in 1919-ish. I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details.

That was the Tungusk Meterite of June 30, 1908. A great deal of idiocy has been written abut it. The most popular theory, until recently, is that it was a comet fragment. More recentl peopl seem to have gone back to thinking it was a solid meteorite that exploded in mid-air. In either case, it wasn’t even in the running for “biggest explosion”. Based on microbarometer traces, seismogam traces, extent of physical damage, and a host of other methods, it seems that the Tunguska event was in the kiloton range. There have been LOTS of nuclear tests bigger than that, and lots of meteor impacts bigger than that, as well.

The best references I’ve found on it are “Giant Meteorites” an “Principles of Meteoritics” by Yevgeny L. Krinov who accompanied Leonid Kulik on the first expeditions to the site in 1927 and later.

I would guess that to be the world’s largest NON-ACCIDENTAL manmade non-nuclear explosion. Without dispute, that is. Most sources cite the Halifax blast as the largest manmade non-nuclear explosion, with the Texas City ammonium nitrate mishap a close second.

All of them are possitively miniscule when compared to large nuclear blasts and large scale natural phenomena. I still wouldn’t have wanted to have been anywhere near Halifax on that day in 1917. There are records of things like large chunks of the ship’s anchor landing two miles away.

Well, I read this in the OP:

I took that to mean the biggest explosion that has occured in recent history as recorded by man. Has the light from a supernova actually reached the earth in the past 6000 years, or however long man has been keeping records?

The first supernova that I remember hearing about is known as 1987A. That was seen on earth in 1987, when it would have happened, I don’t know. I think that another supernova was recorded in either 1992 or 1994.

(Unfortunately I can’t ID this source right now - all I have is a photocopy of a few chapters; I’ll post the source ASAP mods; please delete the quote but not the rest of the post if that’s unacceptable).

This doesn’t directly correlate to explosive power, but I do remember (from a NPS ranger) that one of the ash falls resulting from an eruption in the Yellowstone Hotspot chain buried a herd of buffalo in Nebraska. And this was back when the Hotspot was still around Oregon.

So there have definitely been volcanic explosions that dwarfed anything in “history”.


There’s a reason it’s called SN 1987a, and not just SN 1987. There’s several detected each year, although most of them aren’t visible to the naked eye (1987a was). The earliest definitively recorded supernova was in 1054, as noted by Chinese astronomers, and gave birth to what is now the Crab Nebula.

If, of course, we’re just concerned about detectable light reaching the Earth, and not restricting ourselves to the naked eye, then I’ve got the winner hands-down: With a microwave antenna, we can still “see” the light from the Big Bang itself.

Um, sorry about the wording “the earth has ever seen” - not very clear. I meant on the earth itself.

The point about whether the man-made explosion should be deliberate or not is well made. I guess it’s not too important. I’d have thought the biggest might be a nuclear test explosion like the 57 megaton weapon that Sublight spoke of.

Cometary impacts - like the one that produced the great extinction event that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago - would to my mind be contenders, but I’ve no idea where they rate in terms of explosive power or visual brilliance. Does a cometary impact produce a large fireball? I know that a ten-megaton nuclear explosion can produce a fireball that is three and a half miles wide. So a 57 megaton explosion or a three mile-wide comet!?!?!?

Re: Ripple Rock demolition/explosion:
In WWI, I beleive the British dug under the German lines as a part of the Somme offensive preparations and detonated a very large explosion. I don’t know if this was at Messines (probably misspelled) Ridge, or where. Does someone know if this was bigger (more powerful) than Ripple Rock?

A somewhat related question is how do we comapre explosions from diffeent sources? That is, how do we compare the force of the Nitrate explosion in Texas to the TNT explosion at Ripple Rock to the Soviet 57 MT special to the Port Chicago explosion in WWII? I would imagine that the absolute difference in force of accidental vs. intentional explosions is quite different. If someone had taken the trouble to take the Texan shipload of nitrates and convert into a properly packed ANFO bomb, or the Port Chicago munitions had been wired and stacked & packed to all go up at once, the force would have been much more damaging. Raw tonnage of explosives doesn’t seem to be accurate. Is the calculation of Kilo/Mega tonnage more involved? Maybe X Newtons to the Yth power or something?

Well, explosions are usually described in terms of the total energy (the “megatons” used with nukes are an energy unit), simply because it’s much easier to calculate that way. Power (energy per unit time) is probably a better measure, but to compute power, you need to know how long the explosion lasted, which isn’t an easy matter.

The accidental ones are likely to seem much larger in subjective terms because they happen in places and in manners which do enormous unexpected damage, rather than having their energy expended to do some controlled thing like break up a large rock formation. The main component of the Halifax blast seems to have been over 2000 tons of picric acid, along with other miscellaneous munitions in much smaller quantities. It’s debatable as to whether it equaled some of the planned explosions in actual energy release, since the picric acid probably didn’t explode optimally, as suggested. We can only judge by effects, which are amplified in terms of sensational impact because they happened in the middle of a busy harbor in a city in this case. Nonetheless, accounts of Halifax explosion seem to indicate it is definitely in the running when it comes to large, manmade non-nuclear blasts:

Consider the account of a half ton of ship’s anchor being thrown 2 miles, one of the cannons being launched 3 miles, and a shockwave felt 270 miles distant.

We went around this awhile back debunking the idea that Port Chicago was actually a “secret” atomic experiment that went wrong. You will note the “blinding white flash” description in the Halifax account, in an explosion that was in 1917, and decidedly non-atomic. Other accounts have similar descriptions.

The source I quoted from above was Geology of US Parklands by Kiver and Harris.