Bursting Balloons in a Sand Pit Reveals the Origins of Mysterious Crater

By Bryan Lufkin on at

When we think of craters, asteroid collisions are often what come to mind. But now, thanks to scientists who exploded balloons in a sand pit, we have a better idea of other ways craters can be formed, like underground methane explosions, for instance.

Felipe Pacheco-Vázquez, a scientist at Mexico’s Autonomous University of Puebla, led the team behind the project, and a New Scientist video shows the process in all its slow-mo delight.

First, the scientists buried balloons in a sand box, and then “detonated” them using a needle. Upon detonation, a dome bulges out of the ground like some kind of high-pressure geological zit. Then it completely explodes, triggering what New Scientist calls “underground avalanches,” whose momentum propels a skinny, otherworldly tower of sand to thrust into the air in the centre of the site. The depression that’s formed all around it is what becomes a crater.

This simulation can help us figure out the origins of otherwise mysterious craters—perhaps, buried bombs, methane explosions, or maars, volcanic craters left by underground mixing of magma and water that cause explosions. All these craters differ from asteroid craters because the latter leave a “rim,” while these look more like a big sinkhole.

[New Scientist]