The Science Behind Fireworks

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PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 09: Fireworks are seen during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – Traditions like family cookouts and town festivals are one and the same across communities in north-central West Virginia on Independence Day. However, one local tradition brings science to the table for all to see on the Fourth of July.

Fireworks are beautiful displays of chemical combustion which rely on elements of the Periodic Table to show their stuff. According to physicists at Northeastern University, metal salts are mixed with chemicals to cause a very fast and loud reaction to occur. The quick combination of the chemicals and metals give off energy as heat to create an explosion.

Elements like aluminum and zinc cause plenty of “Ooohs” and “Ahhhhhs” throughout our local firework displays because of the effects that they cause. The silver sparks that we know and love in finales are caused by the element titanium.

Other elements of the Periodic table can change up the color variety in our favorite firework spectaculars.

Blue and orange are caused by copper and calcium salts. Whereas gold and red are sparked by sodium and lithium. Mixing these chemicals can cause changes in color and different reactions when the fireworks explode.

But how does weather play a part in firework displays?

Clouds have a huge role in hearing the booms when you watch and listen to fireworks shows. When we see more clouds in the sky, the sound waves created by the fireworks bounce back to earth at the speed of sound to increase the volume of the fireworks’ explosion.

When we see clearer skies, there’s nothing for the soundwave to interfere with. This creates a quieter boom during firework shows.

When playing with fireworks, it is very important to be safe. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it is pertinent to have a first aid kit and bucket of water when fireworks are in the vicinity. An average sparkler can reach up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit which is hot enough to melt some metals.

It is also a good idea to look out for pets during Independence Day festivities as they may get spooked or scared from the blasts. Our Erica Young spoke to a Harrison County veterinarian about the dangers of fireworks near pets.

For the full list of remaining Independence Day events across north-central West Virginia – click here.

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