Let the Sparks Fly!

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Fireworks, who does not like them? They are always an important part of hailing in the new year. People flock to view the magical sparks in the night sky, with beaming smiles and happy faces. Let us take a closer look at how these wonderful sparks actually occur?

China was where it all started. Fireworks were made there over a thousand years ago. The very early version was a mix of saltpeter, charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients making the first form of gunpowder. This mixture of chemicals was put into bamboo shoots and then lit, which caused them to explode and produce a loud blast. It was believed that the fireworks scared evil spirits and could expel them, which will in turn help bring good luck and happiness. To this day, firecrackers are used as a way to bring good luck in China.

Nowadays, fireworks have evolved to be more than just a loud blast and ventured into being a form of art. These beautiful displays come in shells as the ones below. They look unassuming, but once you light that fuse you are in for a treat.

If we look at the anatomy of these shells, we get a better picture of how they create the aerial fireworks. The shell contains small spheres, aka stars, and  can come in other shapes as cubes or cylinders as well. They  contain different chemicals that when ignited give off the different colors we often see. If you see red sparks, then know that it is strontium that generates that color, magnesium gives off a white spark, sodium creates a bright yellow, while barium gives off a green color. Some colors are not as easy to create, such as blue that needs copper as well as chlorine compound to be produced.

The shell is placed into a steel pipe that acts as a mortar. The pipe contains gunpowder that is fired to help the shell launch. The shell's fuse is lit when the mortar is fired, and as it starts burning, it eventually comes into contact with the components within the shell. The stars inside the shell are nestled in gunpowder, which is ignited and causes them to explode.

The colors change in the air after the fireworks are launched  according to the way the stars are layered. Instead of just one chemical, several are used, and the compositions are layered on top of each other so that when each layer of the star is ignited a different color explodes, and bright sparks of different colors are emitted.

The patterns we see are caused by the pattern the stars are placed around the central gunpowder charge inside the shell as well. If the stars are placed in a circular fashion then you will see a circular display of sparks. This has to be done with great care because one misplaced star can throw off the whole pattern.

 

References
science.howstuffworks.com
livescience.com
s.hswstatic.com
pyrouniverse.com
 

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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