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Gunpowder is classified as a low explosive because of its relatively slow decomposition rate and consequently low brisance.Low explosives deflagrate (i.e., burn) at subsonic speeds, whereas high explosives detonate, producing a supersonic wave.Bombs and fire lances became prominent during the 12th century and were used by the Song during the Jin-Song Wars.The first proto-guns, known as "fire lances", were first recorded to have been used at the siege of De'an in 1132 by Song forces against the Jin.However, by transferring enough energy (from the burning gunpowder to the mass of the cannonball, and then from the cannonball to the opposing fortifications by way of the impacting ammunition) eventually a bombardier may wear down an opponent's fortified defenses.Gunpowder was widely used to fill fused artillery shells (and used in mining and civil engineering projects) until the second half of the 19th century, when the first high explosives were put into use.Gunpowder is no longer used in modern weapons nor is it used for industrial purposes due to its relatively inefficient cost compared to newer alternatives such as dynamite and ammonium nitrate/fuel oil.
"Some have heated together sulfur, realgar and saltpeter with honey; smoke and flames result, so that their hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down." The Chinese Wujing Zongyao (Complete Essentials from the Military Classics), written by Zeng Gongliang between 1040–1044, provides encyclopedia references to a variety of mixtures that included petrochemicals—as well as garlic and honey.
The principle of wet mixing to prevent the separation of dry ingredients, invented for gunpowder, is used today in the pharmaceutical industry.
It was also discovered that if the paste was rolled into balls before drying the resulting gunpowder absorbed less water from the air during storage and traveled better.
The Essentials was however written by a Song dynasty court bureaucrat, and there is little evidence that it had any immediate impact on warfare; there is no mention of gunpowder use in the chronicles of the wars against the Tanguts in the 11th century, and China was otherwise mostly at peace during this century.
However by 1083 the Song court was producing hundreds of thousands of fire arrows for their garrisons.From the violence of that salt called saltpeter [together with sulfur and willow charcoal, combined into a powder] so horrible a sound is made by the bursting of a thing so small, no more than a bit of parchment [containing it], that we find [the ear assaulted by a noise] exceeding the roar of strong thunder, and a flash brighter than the most brilliant lightning." In the early 20th century, British artillery officer Henry William Lovett Hime proposed that another work tentatively attributed to Bacon, Epistola de Secretis Operibus Artis et Naturae, et de Nullitate Magiae contained an encrypted formula for gunpowder.