Have you ever seen a fireworks show? It’s the highlight of many Independence Day celebrations. Many other holidays also include a fireworks show. Fireworks light up the night sky with colorful explosions. The sights and sounds of a fireworks show can amaze your senses and lift your spirits.
Experts believe fireworks were invented in China over 1,000 years ago. Today, China is still the largest maker of fireworks in the world. Fireworks may seem like pure magic. But they’re actually pure science! All those different shapes and colors come about as a result of careful planning.
Most kids are familiar with two basic types of fireworks: firecrackers and sparklers. The science behind these two fireworks forms the basis for all other fireworks. Yes, even those spectacular fireworks displays you see in the sky (called aerial fireworks).
Firecrackers are rolled paper tubes filled with black powder (also called gunpowder). They might also be filled with flash paper and a fuse. When you light the fuse of a firecracker, the fire burns along the fuse. Eventually, it reaches the powder. When it does, the firecracker explodes.
Sparklers are different. There’s no explosion. Instead, sparklers make bright, sparkly light for about a minute. The bright sparks you see are usually burning bits of dust. That dust is made of metals, such as aluminum, iron, steel, zinc, or magnesium.
Aerial fireworks are usually made as a shell that has four parts. The container consists of pasted paper. The fuse allows the shell to reach the desired altitude before exploding. A bursting charge made of black powder (like a firecracker) is at the center of the shell. Stars (sparkler-like substances shaped into small spheres) are mixed throughout the inside of the shell.
These shells are usually launched into the sky from short pipes filled with a lifting charge of black powder. The lifting charge also lights the shell’s fuse, which burns as the shell rises into the sky. When the flame along the fuse hits the bursting charge inside the shell, the shell explodes. That’s when the magic begins!
The explosion ignites the stars. The stars burn to produce the bright sparks of light we see in the sky. The explosion pushes the stars in all directions, which creates beautiful displays.
Have you ever seen fireworks that seem to explode in different stages? Those fireworks use special “multi-break” shells. You can think of them as shells within shells that are made to explode at different times.
Not all fireworks look the same. Some explode in a circle. Others look like a shower of sparks falling down toward the earth. A firework’s pattern depends on how the stars are arranged in the shell. Manufacturers can create an outline of a specific pattern with stars. Then, they surround those stars with a special charge. That charge will separate them all at the same time from the shell.
It takes just as much science to create the beautiful colors we enjoy watching during fireworks shows. Most colors are produced by carefully mixing chemical compounds. Certain compounds make particular colors when they burn. For example, most yellow fireworks include a sodium compound.
What kind of fireworks do you enjoy? Do you like to light sparklers? Or would you rather watch a big fireworks show? Fireworks can add fun to any holiday celebration.
STANDARDS:NGSS.PS1.A, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2
Try It Out
Are you ready to light up the night sky? Be sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:
No need to wait for the next holiday celebration! Watch this incredible fireworks show today. As you watch, explain how the fireworks were made to a friend or family member.
Do fireworks inspire you? Think back to the times you’ve seen fireworks displays in person. What emotions do they generate within you? Fear? Awe? WONDER? Let your imagination roam and write down all of the words that come to mind when you think about how you feel when watching fireworks. Now use as many of those words as possible in a short story about a little boy or girl who sees fireworks for the first time.
If you want to learn more about the elements that are used in fireworks, particularly those used to create dazzling colors, click on over to the Periodic Table of the Elements in Fireworks. The elements used most often in fireworks are highlighted. Just click on an element to learn more about what it does in fireworks! Share what you learn with a friend or family member.