MUNDANE MYSTERIES: How Fireworks Get Their Colors

On Sunday (7/04/21), we light up the night sky with an amazing fireworks display. But, while you’re watching all those amazing fireworks, the question may cross your mind: how do they get their colors? Well, it comes down to basic chemistry.

Small pellets, appropriately called “stars”, are the secret to the fireworks’ colorful success. Those stars are filled with different combos of metal salts, with each adding its own distinct bright color to the firework as it explodes.

Different chemical elements correspond with different colors: red comes from strontium carbonate, yellow from sodium nitrate, orange comes from calcium chloride, green from barium chloride, and copper chloride for blue. Purple fireworks are created pretty much like you’d make purple paint (by mixing the red & the blue).

Whenever you light the fuse on the outside of the thick tube of the firework, that flame ignites the internal “lift charge” (a pouch of black powder), which causes the shell containing the stars to spring into the air. As the shell rises, there’s a time-delay fuse that begins to burn inside and, by the time it goes as high as it’s gonna go, the shell bursts & causes the stars inside to color each strand of the bright burst.

According to fireworks experts, red & green are the easiest colors to make, while blue is a tad more difficult. But, if you want your firework to keep its color for the longest amount of time possible, then you should definitely opt to “go for the gold”.

The trick behind everybody’s favorite fireworks, the ones that change color after they explode, is fairly simple: the stars are coated in a variety of those metal salts I mentioned. Once you see the firework’s second color, that means the stars have burned through their outer layer & reached a different metal salt.

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