Why do nuclear bombs form mushroom clouds?


The Baker Day explosion at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as recorded by an automatically operated camera on a nearby island. Notice the mushroom cloud forming immediately after the explosion.

The Baker Day surge at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, as taped by an immediately run video camera on a close-by island. Notice the mushroom cloud forming instantly after the surge. (Image credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

When a bomb goes off, energy is shot out indiscriminately in all instructions. So, rather of a broadening ball of fire, why do nuclear surges lead to mushroom clouds?

Although the outburst of energy does at first form a sphere of hot air, that’s just the start of the story, according to Katie Lundquist, a scientist of computational engineering at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Because hot air increases, the bigger bulk of the sphere in the center column — where the core of an apple would be — experiences more buoyancy than the edges do.

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