The science behind fireworks - WNEM TV 5

The science behind fireworks

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Happy Independence day Mid-Michigan! With such beautiful weather expected tonight there is no doubt that there will be plenty of firework shows to go see or you may even set off a few yourself.

Red, white, blue, green, yellow, gold, and even purple, or orange. While they are beautiful have you even thought about the science behind the display?

Fireworks are made up of different elements and arranged in a way that when ignited they will burn with a specific color. So those amazing displays we see every year are not only a work of art, but also a work of science.

Here are what elements correspond to a specific color.

  • Red = Strontium/Lithium
  • White= Magnesium
  • Blue- Copper
  • Green= Barium
  • Yellow and Gold= Sodium
  • Purple= a mixture of copper and strontium
  • Orange= Calcium
  • Silver= aluminum or titanium

How do fireworks…work?

The big, professional firework displays we usually see are complex shells made up of four different compartments.

Inside one of those big shells is a container, usually made of pasted paper, a fuse, which allows the firework to reach it’s desired height before exploding , a bursting charge (gunpowder or something similar), and Stars which are what bring us not only the shape, but also the color.

Fireworks are usually loaded into a cannon and when launched the fuse is lit after the fuse burns and hits the bursting charge the firework explodes igniting the stars and pushing them away and we see the color and pattern of the firework.  The stars on the inside of a shell can be arranged so they will scatter or be pushed away in a certain pattern whether it be a circle or shower of sparks.


Be sure to stay safe around any and all fireworks this year!

And if you’re looking for a show to go see you can find the full list here.

Happy Fourth of July! 

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