KABLAM!!! Woohoo!!

By Phil Plait | April 15, 2009 9:00 am

Not all rockets travel up. Some go sideways. On Mythbusters, Jamie Hyneman and My Close Personal Friend Adam Savage&#153 were testing whether a head-on collision of two semis could fuse the metal together. That didn’t work, so they took the next logical step: using a rocket sled to slam into a car, ramming into a one-inch thick piece of plate metal behind it.

What followed may be the single greatest thing ever aired on television ever.

Holy crap!

The sled had two stages; the first burned for only a second or two, then the second stage ignited. This gives the sled a lot more speed; the first stage has to push on the whole sled, accelerating it, but the second stage only has to push on about half the mass, and the acceleration is much higher. The impact was at well over 600 miles per hour! You can see the second stage hit first, then the slower moving (but still screaming fast) first stage catches up a second later.

Here’s another (awesome) angle:

Whoa.

If you saw the episode you know what happened: the car and the metal plate didn’t fuse, but the car was torn literally to shreds, and the inch-thick plate metal was bent like it was warm taffy. Since they didn’t fuse, I’ll have to grant that one a "Busted"; the energy per unit mass of the impact was probably 20-30 times that of a head-on collision between trucks, so if that didn’t do it, not much else will.

Wanna see it in super slo-mo? Heh.

On the Discovery site is a page where you can scan through that high-speed footage frame by frame, too.

One of these days I’m gonna have to tag along with these guys when they film. Wow.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Debunking

Comments (82)

  1. Daniel J. Andrews

    Totally awesome! Think that makes me a red-neck now? Next stop, tickets to some monster truck vs car rally.

  2. I keep wondering if it were possible for the sled to reach Mach 1 without derailing. It would be ultra cool if just a few meters before the impact the vapor cone formed

  3. T_U_T

    I think it is wrong. much smaller but much longer acting force has different effect than short extreme blast. This is why machine press usually pancakes things instead of blowing things into smithereens even if the net energy is the same

  4. Alan French

    As a follow up, how about two rocket sleds driving one inch plates together? That would be one heck of a collision!

    Clear skies, Alan

  5. Davidlpf

    Note to self do not park in front of rocket sled tracks.

  6. mus

    Funny. Just today, my physics teacher was just talking about how there are probably more men in physics than women because men like to blow things up.

    Personally I don’t enjoy blowing things up nearly as much as other guys do, but whatever.

  7. Brian Schlosser

    I saw the show last week, and I said “This is the COOLEST THING EVER that they have shown!”

    Even more than when they blew up that cement mixer…

    The whole episode was pretty light on science and big on things-go-smash-now, but I don’t care. I wish I could drop a Beemer from 4/5 of a mile… :-D

  8. Brian Schlosser

    @alan french:

    they actually DID fuse two plates together, with high explosives… pretty wicked bad, IMHO.

  9. Wow, although the sled was subsonic, once it hit the car there are definitely shockwaves generated. Look at the super slow-mo segment, the mountain skyline above the car and to the right a little – you can see classic shockwave “hooks” propagating to the right.

  10. A friend of mine was doing research into fusing plates together, using ANFO and C4. In the concrete bunker a quarter mile away, we were waiting for the blast and he said “cover your ears”. What a noise!

  11. Bob from Easton

    I love disaster and what ever comes after….

  12. Malfeitor

    I saw this on the big HD tv. I loved the red cloud in the air as the paint was blown off the car. Also love how the 1st stage section gets it’s shot in at the very end.

  13. Consider an alumnum engine block subjected to extreme and extremely fast deformation. Steel melts around 1550 C but aluminum at only 660 C. Splash or merely gooify the engine block and there is your apparent weldment afterwards.

  14. tarrkid

    “What followed may be the single greatest thing ever aired on television ever.”

    No truer statement has ever been made.

  15. that was the coolest (explosive) thing ive ever seen on Mythbusters, i wish i had Tivo so i could watch over and over. when that second stage ignited the thrust was incredible and, for me, unexpected. Totally Made of Awesome.

  16. I really like Mythbusters, both because the show is funny and because it puts across that ideas should be tested. But they often overlook aspects of the problem when they are scaling it down, such as in this case (momentum, the difference between fast and slow deformation, etc.) I’d like to see those aspects discussed in a couple of sentences, no need for anything detailed.

    Still, I give them full marks for getting people excited about putting accepted ideas to the test. And who doesn’t enjoy seeing Jamie and Adam blow s*** up? :-)

  17. They have the coolest job ever.

  18. Erica

    badastronomy/2009/04/15/kablam-woohoo-warning-testosterone-alert/ — seriously, Phil, why is “testosterone alert” in the post’s URL? If you’re going to declare explosions as something specifically liked by guys, at least have the courtesy to be more obvious about it.

  19. Greg in Austin

    I saw that when it aired, and indeed it was probably the best show yet. Definitely the most expensive.

    My favorite part is in the slow motion video, when you can see the red and white paint on the car turn to red and white dust particles as the car is compressed. Totally awesome!

    8)

  20. Todd W.

    @Erica

    While men tend to have a good bit of testosterone, women have it, too. IIRC, it’s responsible for a lot of the aggressive tendencies people have. Blowing stuff up would, I think, qualify as a high-testosterone activity, for both genders.

  21. Erica

    @Todd — The general understanding of “testosterone” is “the male hormone”, and its inclusion (particularly in a casual conversation or blog post) therefore implies this is a male activity.

    Protesting that girls have testosterone too ignores my point. The fact that we do, indeed, have identical hormones in different proportions isn’t relevant to the general conversational meaning of what “testosterone alert”.

  22. Mark

    That slow motion footage really drives home how fast that sled was moving. Compare the speed it’s moving with how long it takes for the car’s bumper to rotate in the air and then fall. And I was thinking the same thing as Greg in Austin: the red paint turning into a red cloud was just so cool.
    Not shown here, but on the show, I loved watching Adam’s mouth just drop open and then stand there speechless after seeing the second stage ignite and the destruction that followed. It says a lot that those guys, who so regularly get to do such awesome stuff, were still floored at the speed and power.

  23. Erica – it looks like that was the draft title of the post, and BA changed it before he posted it. The actual file retains its original name. That’s how it works in blog software I’ve used, anyway.

    So it looks like Phil thought better of the title in the writing process.

    Not that I have a stellar record of sensitivity with this crowd, but I just thought I’d put that out there :)

  24. Cheyenne

    No Buster loaded into the car?

    Oh wow, that would have actually been just so wrong.

  25. BJN

    Frankly, I’ve seen all the “myths” chosen because they involve colorful destruction that I care to see in this lifetime. I mean really, who cares if semi trucks fuse metal in head-on collisions? I very much doubt this myth is one that 99% of the show’s audience heard of before the episode.

    I must have low testosterone this morning, obviously.

  26. some people will get offended at anything.

  27. Wow, that is so wontonly destructive. I love it!

  28. Quiet Desperation

    Mythbusters blew something up, huh? Wow.

    You know, I think I’m tired of the show. Sorry to be a buzzkill, bow many things can I watch go boom?

    One of the best segments they did in recent seasons was the bull in the china shop test. This gigantic bull ran around china shop test course (fake shelves in a bullpen) and I think it brushed one shelf slightly. A totally unexpected result, and much more fascinating than yet another boom.

    Oh, and try using “estrogen alert” for an article and see how well that goes over.

  29. Erica

    @Carey — I know, which is why it struck me as particularly out of place given Phil’s track record of being very pro-women-in-science-and-engineering.

  30. dre

    Re shockwaves, I like how the gaffer’s tape gets peeled off the calibration board (or whatever it’s called – hey, what are those things called?) ahead of the sled’s arrival. I also like how the car barely reacts for the first couple of frames after collision – it’s compacted so fast and so perfectly that it looks like it’s just disappearing.

  31. I want either a T-shirt or a poster of the one frame from the footage of the two trucks crashing into each other (earlier in the episode), where you can read “Failure Is Always An Option” spray-painted across the sides of the trucks.

  32. Additional note to self: Keep speed well below 600 mph.

  33. I agree that this was awesome. To add to this, here is my analysis of two objects moving and colliding vs. one moving into a stationary at twice the speed.

    http://blog.dotphys.net/2009/04/mythbusters-crashing-two-moving-cars-or-one/

  34. Michelle

    oooo yea. When I saw that episode I was literally jumping on my couch. It was SO. FRICKIN, AWESOME.

    Rocket destruction ANYTIME, baby.

  35. Oded

    Certainly one of my most favorite Mythbusters clips ever, I showed it to pretty much everyone I know.

    By the way, I have to mention this – a part in the new NASA space module has been named COLBERT!

  36. fastpathguru

    jaw drops watching stripes getting blown off the background board before the sled even reaches it…

  37. Darrell E

    Erica,

    I must be a misogynistic pig because I can’t for the life of me figure out how you can twist Phil’s use of “testosterone alert” here as being anti female, or rude, or insensitive in any way. Being a little familiar with Phil’s on line persona via this blog, and the context, it seems clear that Phil was attempting to be humorous by poking a little fun at himself, and possibly males in general. The sterotype that Phil employed is a negative one aimed at males, not females. If anyone should be offended, and really no one should be, then it should be males. You seem to be trying very hard to find things to be offended about.

  38. I wonder is seeing these videos would have any impact on the 9/11 “Where’s the fuselage?” people?

  39. Thanny

    I loved how the red and white paint just vaporized as the sled proceeded to eat the car.

    Their myth conclusion, however, was off. They were too literal with the term “fused” and “pancaked”.

    All “fused” means is that the trucks are stuck together by intermeshed twisted metal. And the compact car would simply have to be largely flattened inside a cavity between the stuck-together trucks. I still think it’s possible for this to happen, but nearly impossible to duplicate the correct conditions (the truck collision, although perfectly timed, was still very off center, causing the compact card to be extruded rather than captured).

  40. Oh, and I thought this was the best Mythbusters episode ever!

  41. GJeff

    Awesome video. However, I challenge the “greatest thing on television” claim with another explosion set up to simulate what would have happened had Guy Fawkes succeeded in blowing up the British House of Parliament in 1605.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57-BJmeh9y0&NR=1

    or search on Youtube for The Gunpowder Plot – Exploding the Legend (7/8)

  42. Trebuchet

    I’m a big Mythbusters fan but I’m actually getting a little tired of the explosions (or collisions, or other means of destruction) that seem to be mandatory in every show. Some of the simplest tests (like the bull in the china shop, as referenced above) are really the best, and most surprising.

    The moon hoax episode managed to be great without having to explode stuff.

  43. GJeff

    Sorry, that Youtube clip in my last post was the short version – Here’s the longer one with more angles.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFytcsA9mU8

  44. Ray

    3vil5win,

    It is indeed possible to exceed Mach 1 on the track.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5bPu58fSc0

  45. Stephen

    What’s happening from about 32s to 54s in the slow motion video. Looks like the camera is shaking or is it a schockwave?

  46. Ryan

    There are rocket sleds that go over Mach 8. The current record was set at 6,416 mph (Mach 8.5) with a 4-stage rocket at Holloman Air Force Base (NM) on April 30, 2003 on a 50,788 foot long (9.62 mile) track.

  47. Treelor

    If how the sun fuses material has anything to do with this, there’s no way they could’ve built up the pressure to fuse them together via earthly means, so it’s no surprise it didn’t work.

    Still awesome.

  48. Ryan

    Also, even though that sled on mythbusters was going 650 mph, the Thrust SSC jet-propelled car set the land-speed record back in 1997 where it broke the sound barrier in two back to back trips, with a speed of 763.035 mph.

  49. Mike L.

    New Mexico Tech — that’s my school! I work right across from the EMRTC office they showed. I don’t know the exact dates they did those blasts, but I’m certain we heard it from here.

    The Mythbusters have been on campus a lot over the last few months. There was a public viewing of the episode here the night it aired, and they auctioned off previous Mythbusters props as door prizes.

    I donated my old car to EMRTC a few years ago. I’m hoping that if it hasn’t been destroyed yet, that they get to do something like this with it. I was told that I would get a copy of the video when it was destroyed (if it wasn’t part of anything secret).

    I love this town.

  50. Charles Boyer

    @Michelle: “Rocket destruction ANYTIME, baby.”

    No NASA job for, Michelle.

  51. Personally I don’t enjoy blowing things up nearly as much as other guys do, but whatever.

    I make up for it. I not only have a physics degree, I started my military training as a combat engineer and did my share of demolitions :)

    There’s not much more fun you can have than setting off 200 kg of Nitropel (aka TNT) to dig a hole 3m deep and 8-10 m long. Definitely a LOT more fun than digging the same hole with the “Entrenching Device Mk III, hand operated, air cooled”

  52. GregInVancouver

    Never has senseless destruction been so entertaining.

  53. MadScientist

    I think that’s myth demolished. Kids, don’t play with big rockets at home.

    BA, you might look into acquiring a decomissioned missile and just sending the rocket straight up – put a camera on or something. ;)

  54. ND

    I will also throw my vote behind the bull-in-china-shop segment. It was amazing to watch the bulls gingerly jog around the shelves. Really cool.

    But I will also give my approval to the two-stage rocket sled. Two-stage! It would not have crossed my mind to to that.

    Oh and the overheated boilers. Those things can really take off !

  55. MadScientist: What’s the fun in straight up?

  56. George E Martin

    @ND

    “I will also throw my vote behind the bull-in-china-shop segment. It was amazing to watch the bulls gingerly jog around the shelves. Really cool.”

    And there was also the elephant and mouse episode where it looked like wild elephants in Africa really do shy away from mice.

    George

  57. Bryan

    That sled is almost supersonic… At the very beginning of the slow motion clip you can see the sound/shock waves blast the black paint off of the speed calibration billboard they set up in front of the car.

  58. justcorbly

    Reminds me of a junior high science project of mine eons ago:

    1. Build wood trough, 10 feet by three inches
    2.Hang a hinged metal flap three-quarters of the way down the trough. Make it a tight fit.
    3. Drill a hole in the end of the trough at the far distance from the metal flap.
    4. Buy little solid fuel rockets engines from Estes Industries. Acquire mouse.
    5. Build little rocket with little capsule to hold mouse.
    6. Fill trough behind metal flap with water.
    7. Insert mouse into little capsule .
    8. Insert Estes Industries engine into little rocket.
    9. Insert little rocket into hold in one end of trough
    10. Launch rocket.
    11. Go see if the little rocket is in the watery portion of the trough.
    12. Release mouse and see if it’s still alive.

    The next year I stuck a mouse in one big jar, sealed it, and ran a hose to another big jar containing a bunch of algae. I took it all to science class where I announced the mouse and the algae were living off each other. Oxygen and carbon dioxide, you know. (Food? Water? Nah…) The teach unscrewed the lid to the mouse jar and reached in. The little bugger bit him and he had to get a tetanus shot.

  59. Phil ->

    > One of these days I’m gonna have to tag along with these guys
    > when they film. Wow.

    Now, if you could get Adam and Jamie to agree to let you bring somebody along, you’d have a perfect raffle fundraiser for JREF… “visit Mythbusters with Phil!”

    I bet you could sell a couple thousand tickets in the first 3 minutes.

  60. Keith

    I am in complete and total agreement with you Phil (which is not at all unusual, but anyway). This IS the most awesome thing ever aired on television.

  61. TaoMacGuy

    Having seen the entire episode, I concur:

    That

    Was

    Made

    of

    100%

    Pure

    Awesome!

    No artificial ingredients added!

  62. Mang

    Dang they missed a great opportunity. I wonder if the airbag would have inflated before the sled crushed the passenger behind it.

    My bet is on the sled. But it would have been cool to see the bag loose the race.

  63. Damon

    Never understood the appeal of this show. Or at least, I’ve never heard of any of the myths they test. And the rare exceptions are cop-outs; they can never get the setup right so the results are always flawed, which sort of defeats the point. Kind of a pushover, if you ask me.

  64. Jeff

    So, was that filmed at the China Lake test range near Ridgecrest, CA? I used to work there, and I know they have rocket sled tracks and high speed / high resolution cameras. Just wondering…

    Awesome video clips, BTW.

  65. Autumn

    “They’ve gone to plaid . . . “

  66. John Benton

    If I ever get diagnosed with terminal illness and only have a short while to live…that’s how I want to go out! In a high-speed, shrapnel ball of awesome!

  67. cletus

    Kewl! Anybody notice the face of The Incredible Hulk appear in the dust cloud (slo-mo shot) at right around the 4 minute mark? There’s one fleeting bit of pareidolia for ya, Phil.

  68. # cletus Says:
    Kewl! Anybody notice the face of The Incredible Hulk appear in the dust cloud (slo-mo shot) at right around the 4 minute mark? There’s one fleeting bit of pareidolia for ya, Phil.

    The Hulk or The Thing (Ben Grimm)?
    Also at about :45, there’s what looks like an Orc (nose just left of flying V shaped debris).

    J/P=?

  69. Robert Carnegie

    @Thanny: “fused” in the sense of “intertwined metal” happens to a small carton of paperclips in your back pocket when you sit. I really think they had something more in mind. Maybe this, vehicles welded together, was a myth passed around vehicle accident recovery crews of various disciplines, which most of us aren’t. And someone could just do the math but that isn’t so good on television.

    Snopes.com has some ghastly vehicle stories, of course not necessarily true. The two giant trucks that collided side-into-side and the little two-door car that much later is found crushed between them, for instance.

  70. QUASAR

    Who are you going to call?

    MYTHBUSTERS!

  71. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Rocket sleds!!! [drools]

    I keep wondering if it were possible for the sled to reach Mach 1 without derailing. It would be ultra cool if just a few meters before the impact the vapor cone formed

    No a priori reason why they shouldn’t, cars can.

    But as for a vapor cone reading BA comments have taught me that it can occur below strictly supersonic speeds – the above comment can be read otherwise. From M.S Cramer’s tutorial on “Fluid Mechanics” we learn that Prandtl-Glauert Condensation Clouds occurs around transonic speeds (Mach 0.8-1.2):

    “The clouds formed by the Prandtl-Glauert singularity are due to the near-sonic amplification of the pressure and temperature perturbations which naturally occur whenever air passes over any bump or object. Thus, an aircraft can fly at one-half or twice the speed of sound and generate no clouds. However, if the same aircraft flies at 0.95 or 1.05 times the speed of sound, the amplification implicit in (Pg2) may be enough to cause condensation in the low-pressure, low-temperature portions of the flow. [...] Finally, it should be clear that Prandtl-Glauert condensation has nothing to do with “breaking the sound barrier” and is not a Star Trek-like “burst” through Mach one. An aircraft can generate a Prandtl-Glauert condensation cloud without ever exceeding the speed of sound.”

    Not that I have a stellar record of sensitivity with this crowd, but I just thought I’d put that out there

    Still, I see some trying to argue rationally about emotional (or hormonal :-o ) private and anecdotal matters this time around too, it will be interesting to see if it can be done at least on science blogs.

  72. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    that’s how I want to go out! In a high-speed, shrapnel ball of awesome!

    Spreading the ashes high and wide, eh? Hmm, well, … , ok. It’s your funeral.

    But aren’t you afraid they will describe it as “a scraptacular death”?

  73. Jim

    I don’t think the car was torn to shreds so much as it was vaporized! That is definitely one of their cooler segments ever. That episode also had another segment good for a laugh; the car that Grant, Kari, and Tory sent over the embankment by mistake… (sigh) I want to be a Mythbuster.

  74. PhilB

    [i]Now, if you could get Adam and Jamie to agree to let you bring somebody along, you’d have a perfect raffle fundraiser for JREF… “visit Mythbusters with Phil!”

    I bet you could sell a couple thousand tickets in the first 3 minutes.[/i]

    Seconding the idea as a fundraiser, this sounds like a brilliant idea although I’m sure there’d be some legal stuff to work out and other pragmatic considerations.

    /Calls dibs on first tickets.

  75. CJ

    This reminds me of how the company I work for makes their high pressure (up to 20,000 psi) pipes. It is this really cool technique called friction welding. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friction_welding

    I got to see them doing it in the manufacturing plant one time. You can weld the threads onto a pipe in a matter of a few seconds, and after painting you can’t even tell where they are combined. The joint is seamless.

  76. Katie Berryhill

    Now if they’d only continue to post episodes on iTunes, so that those of us who don’t pay for cable or satellite can buy them, I’d be happy. I still haven’t seen the Moon hoax episode! :-(

  77. @ PhilB

    Hey, wait a second, the dibs goes to the idea generator first, just like first authorship.

    You can be a contributor. :-D

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »