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Mushroom cloud

A mushroom cloud is a distinctive mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke, flame or debris resulting from a very large explosion. They are most commonly associated with nuclear explosions, but any sufficiently large blast will produce the same sort of effect. Volcano eruptions and impact events can produce natural mushroom clouds.

Mushroom clouds form as a result of the sudden formation of a large mass of hot low-density gasses near the ground. The mass of gas rises rapidly, resulting in turbulent vortices curling downward around its edges and drawing up a column of additional smoke and debris in the center to form its "stem". The mass of gas eventually reaches an altitude where it is no longer less dense than the surrounding air and disperses, the debris drawn upward from the ground scattering and drifting back down (see fallout).

The largest mushroom clouds to be photographed resulted from the impact of fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on the planet Jupiter, some of which rose hundreds of kilometers above the cloud layers.