Fireworks are among the most popular signals of celebrations in the modern world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a anniversary, birthday or public celebration, fireworks always ever fail to make an appearance. We are able to see and appreciate them all the time, but is there anything we can learn about them? Other than that, they create gorgeous patterns and colours on the night sky. There’s a lot to know about these extraordinary pieces of art and we’ll explore the background and science behind fireworks.
What exactly are fireworks and what is their history?
Fireworks are aesthetic pyrotechnic that is classified as ‘low explosive’ (despite the way we may see them). Popular for their vibrant colours and their typically loud noises They have become a common part of society , with fireworks being popular in certain regions around the globe.
In the beginning, they were a part of China during the Song Dynasty, they were used in the same way that we do today, for commemorating important moments. They typically took the shape of bamboo stems with explosives and were thrown into the air.
At this point fireworks were limited in their form and colours due to the available materials and also the general understanding of fireworks. The 14th century saw chemicals were applied to these early fireworks to give them colour and was extremely useful as smoke signals for military. It was also the time when fireworks found their ways into Europe, with knowledge of recipes that were discovered by Europeans from China at the time.
It wasn’t that until 17th century that fireworks became widely popular and even then, the difficulty of finding materials and chemicals meant it wasn’t until the 20th century when fireworks became readily available in all kinds of varieties.
Different types of fireworks
The most popular types of fireworks are:
Named in honor of the saint Catherine of Alexandria, who was sentenced to death through an execution wheel, and upon touching it, the wheel broke up into pieces. Given the way fireworks explode into a wheel of spinning sparks and flames when they are ignited, the name seems incredibly appropriate.
Smoke Bombs are fireworks designed to produce smoke when they are ignited.
Barrages and Firework Cakes
These are fireworks that have multiple tubes , and are accompanied by Roman Candles or aerial shells connected by a high-speed fuse. These create long-lasting explosive effects which are stunning.
Possibly one of the most recognisable fireworks, these are ground-based fireworks that explode into stars and sparks, accompanied by crackling and whistling sound.
Traditional firework that appears like a long tube that explodes stars and other shells to create colorful ball of lights.
More popular in today’s generation, these are designed in the form of rockets. They shoot through the air at high speed, often generating an intense whooshing sound creating a huge explosion.
What is the mechanism behind fireworks? – The science of fireworks
In order for a firework to achieve the intended effect, it needs the occurrence of several chemical reactions which usually occur sequentially over a short period of time. By adding energy to the mix, it turns into the catalyst to trigger a chemical reaction which the solid components in the firework start to melt in the presence of gas oxygen. This is converted into other chemical compounds, and emits gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen and carbon monoxide.
You might be interested in knowing what causes the colors of fireworks, but again, the magic of science will be able to explain this for us. The colors of fireworks are derived from different metal compounds which are present in the fireworks. When they ignite, they emit different colours depending on the specific compound.
Some of the early Chinese recipes to create different colors include Calcium compounds that produce the red colour, Lead carbonate for a Lilac hue and Copper Acetate for green, Mercurous Chloride for white and Arsenical sulphide for yellow shades.
Since then, we’ve discovered new methods of getting these colors. They are: Strontium salts for red and calcium salts for orange, sodium salts that are yellowand Barium sodium salts for green, copper salts to blue, the Copper as well as Strontium compounds for purple, white hot Magnesium and Aluminium for silver, and other burning metals such Magnesium for white.
The reason they can soar in the air at very high speeds is due to the hot gas released when the firework is ignited. Rapid release the gas creates a significant pressure, which propels the firework in the opposite direction of the hot gas that is released.
The future of fireworks
Due to the increasing popularity of firework displays, their usage in our modern society has seen new ways of lighting displays become popular as a form of competition.
As seen during Shanghai’s 2021 New Year celebrations, it seems that we are moving into an age where drone technology is becoming an adversary to fireworks performing celebrations.
However, these drones don’t have the ability to capture the natural beauty that fireworks offer. While they are nice but it’s the combustion combined with the array of colours that make the science behind fireworks incomparable. This is why it is a given that fireworks will remain a staple in societies worldwide.
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