Broken Beanstalk Animation
What happens if a Space Elevator snaps?
Though still science fiction, more an more enthusiasts and experts are pushing for serious research into the technology. Reaching right from the surface of Earth to over 22,300 miles into space, a Space Elevator could provide a railroad track right into orbit and beyond for pennies a pound.
But being such a huge structure, the inevitable question pops up of what would happen if something went disastrously wrong and its snapped somewhere along its length. The animation in the link above demonstrates a number of possibilities--the elevator cable snapping at its base, at its orbital counterweight, and several points in between.
There are a couple of surprises, as Blaise Gessend, the creator of the animation points out in the accompanying article, primarily that as the earth-anchored end falls back toward the planet, the free end of the cable experiences such tremendous sheer forces as it whips around the curve of Earth parts of it are likely to tear off and going flying back out into space.
Beanstalks collapsing have been used in science fiction before, particularly in the novel Mercury by Ben Bova, and I have myself contemplated the idea to drive an as yet tenuous story, so this is very interesting indeed to me. It certainly opens one's eyes to the astonishing physics such a megastructure could entail.