The Stone Soup Novelist

I have a great idea for a novel. You know what would make it even better?…

Serious Science Question: How do you blow up a space monster using 18th century technology?

So, in this scene from my novel, the heroes are attacked by a horrifying creature, and they’re limited to ~18th century levels of technology to deal with it. The monster floats in air by means of a hydrogen bladder; its metabolism breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen. I’ve devised a spear that lets them pierce the creature’s skin and send a spark into its hydrogen bladder to blow it up. I figure there would be no oxygen inside the bladder though, so the weapon sends a spray of saltpeter (KNO3) to act as an oxidizer.

My question for any chemistry buffs out there: how far-fetched does this sound? Okay, okay, I realize the whole thing’s pretty-blinking far fetched, but I mean specifically the way I’m blowing up the monster? Is there some basic fact about the combustion of hydrogen that I don’t understand? Is there some easier way? If you have any ideas, please drop them in the Comments below. Thanks!

If I haven’t said it before, thanks to Michael P for the idea of deepstaria enigmatica as a model for an alien life-form, and to novelist Michael R Wilson for the image of a cloud bank stretching across the horizon like a wall.  Those two images together formed the nucleus of this scene.

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2 responses to “Serious Science Question: How do you blow up a space monster using 18th century technology?

  1. Michael Dean June 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    I am a chemistry teacher and one of your followers emailed me to come take a look at your question.

    First, I make hydrogen gas every year in class. In a soap bubble or in a balloon, it will immolate fairly easily…so it should work the same in a creature’s bladder if you can open it up…I usually just apply a candle flame, which will melt the balloon rubber and start the reaction…no extra oxidizer needed. It’s not really an explosion, more of just a fire, (see video of the Hindenburg on YouTube) but it would be enough to kill a creature.

    From a biology perspective, there is no energy to be had from breaking down water into Hydrogen and Oxygen…This reaction would have to be an energy storage method (the way photosynthesis produces glucose as a chemical energy store. The creature would need to recombine the hydrogen to make water, in the same way that cellular respiration is the reverse of photosynthesis. The hydrogen could also be used for buoyancy, if the creature is flying. This could be separate from the normal metabolic pathways.

    • dbfurches June 12, 2012 at 5:38 am

      Thanks so much for the info! Based on this, I’ll remove the saltpeter, and have the monster go up like a roman candle rather than explode. Good point about the breaking down of hydrogen and oxygen being an energy storage mechanism.

By posting this comment, you are granting me permission to use the words and ideas expressed below in my novel. You will not sue me when it becomes a bestseller. This is totally legally binding.

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