Why Did This Corn Explode?

When the Motherboard team came across a video of a corn tank collapsing and exploding, there were a lot of questions. Why did it explode? Does corn usually explode? Did the corn pop?

As MoBo’s resident country kid, most of those questions were directed at me. I didn’t grow up on a farm but I have enough rural experience to know two things: One, corn does not tend to spontaneously combust. And two, the local news will 100 percent have covered this story. I was right on both counts.

The video was originally posted on Facebook Monday by farmer Jake White of Switz City, Indiana, according to WTHR Indiana. White wrote that the collapse had happened Sunday afternoon around 1 P.M. and that nobody was hurt. WTHR reported that the top of the bin ripped three power boxes off a wall, which caused the spark that created the explosion.

The corn itself didn’t explode, but the huge cloud of grain dust generated by the collapsing bin did. It’s a phenomenon known as a dust explosion and is a known hazard on farms. The bin trapped a concentrated amount of oxygen which, when combined with the spark from the power line and the dust particles, causes a rapid combustion. These can be deadly, so it’s lucky that the White family only witnessed a quick flash and no one was hurt.

However, White posted on Facebook later that even though no one was injured, it was still a crappy situation.

“If only these million viewers came out with shovels to help out, not been a good day,” White wrote, detailing the extensive damage to the equipment after the explosion. “Harvest is only three weeks away for us, and we’ve got a lot of phone calls to make in the meantime. We appreciate all the support from all around the world. Farming isn’t easy, but we will make it work.”

Oh, and as for whether the corn popped? No. Popcorn is a specific variety of corn, and it’s the only one that pops. The majority of corn grown in the US is used for livestock feed, ethanol, or human consumption—and it’s not the kind that pops.