Record-breaking Tonga volcano generated the fastest atmospheric waves ever seen

The massive eruption from the underwater Tonga volcano in the Pacific earlier this year generated a blast so powerful, it sent massive pressure waves rippling through the atmosphere and around the globe. These waves were the fastest ever observed within Earth’s atmosphere, reaching speeds of 720 miles (1,158 kilometers) per hour, a new study finds.

“This was a genuinely huge explosion, and truly unique in terms of what’s been observed by science to date,” study lead author Corwin Wright, a Royal Society University Research Fellow based at the Centre for Space, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science at the University of Bath in the U.K., said in a statement (opens in new tab). The atmospheric waves triggered by the volcano (opens in new tab) traveled at unprecedented speeds, “very close to the theoretical limit,” he said. 

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