I'm curious, therefore, why the lack of consensus? Is there any evidence inconsistent with the bolide hypothesis? Or is there just no positive proof whatsoever (e.g. some type of meteor residue or other) so it can never be conclusively demonstrated?
When anything combustible is aerosolized and mixed with oxygen, it allows it to explode. This is how thermobaric explosives work https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermobaric_weapon see also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_explosion
Gunpowder doesn't need oxygen, but it burns instead of exploding. If there was an initial set of fires and smaller explosions that dispersed unburned gunpowder and wood/grain dust into the sky, once it was dispersed a flash could have spread through the dust cloud and created a huge explosion as described. This theory would explain both the initial disturbances and the huge explosion at the end, but I don't see it mentioned anywhere.
Perhaps the passby tore the roof off the armory and sucked black powder into the air, and then the impact shockwave caused a fuel/air-like explosion?
Also note that the description is by survivors, so the sequence of sounds maybe different away from the impact.
That was my thought too, especially with the description of the initial rumbling noises. Gunpowder burning in a small space might well provide the energy needed to disperse something flammable in a cloud above the armory which could then be ignited at some interval after it was created, providing a fuel-air explosion above ground level which would explain the over pressure damage without burning, the shape of the mushroom cloud, and the magnitude of the explosion.
it seems a bit improbable that a bolide would just so happen to hit the armory. Given that bolide events are rare to begin with, the low chance of hitting a military building is enough to make me skeptical.
I have no idea what contemporary chemical explosives were extant, but if there were any plausible agent I would favor that instead.
Only black-powder. Nitroglycerin, the first practical explosive more powerful than black-powder, was invented two centuries later.
Well, isn't the probability of hitting the armory identical to that of hitting anywhere else on the planet?
On the other hand explosive materials accidents happen where big amounts of explosive materials are stored, and there's few places in the "anything else than armory" category so the event is more likely.
Edited 14:32 MET
If it caused the detonation or deflagration of the armory's gunpowder, that might account for most of the clouds, including trails of smoke from burning fragments thrown high into the air (the "messy strands of silk"?)
Wait for the 3rd explosion at 0:50.
Still damn impressive on the videos though.
Nitric acid you can make from sulfuric acid and alkali nitrates. And sulfuric acid was discovered by Rhazes (Zakariya al-Razi) in ~900 AD. So it's possible.
Or maybe ammonium nitrate. That was known in antiquity, but not as an explosive. But maybe they discovered that. And indeed, mixtures of ammonium nitrate, picric acid and anything carbonaceous are decent ~high explosives.
The Texas City disaster, involved ~2 million kg of ammonium nitrate. But TFA notes that the facility produced only ~400 kg gunpowder per day. Let alone ammonium nitrate, if any.
So what, bolide?
Even the Halifax explosion wasn't nearly as big as the Wanggongchang explosion. It's hard for me to fathom they had so much explosives there.
How does one die of shock? I'm curious if this is just an old medical description or possibly the weakness of a 7-month old baby at the time.
Mythbusters often highlighted this when working with explosions by using rupture disks at different distances from the explosion to measure the amount of damage incurred due to the pressure wave.
He died of shock. (medical condition)
He died of the shock. (single, definitive event, e.g., fright or shock wave)
Might be reading too much into it, but lends credence to the shock wave interpretation. Anyone have access to the original text? Might clear it up.
Translates roughly (with the caveat that my Literary Chinese sucks) as:
In the imperial consort Lady Ren's living quarters, things fell down and the emperor's third son she had given birth to on the first day of the tenth month of 1625, having been shocked on that day, subsequently passed away.
The paragraph I took that quote from begins with the description of a dragon sighting four years earlier, which might give you an idea of how reliable that source is.
But the cause of death of the heir is far more profoundly vague, linguistically, although at the same time more specific.