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The Rockets’ Red Glare
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The Rockets’ Red Glare

Credit: Chris Edward Moran
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cedwardmoran/542701018
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The fireworks bursting in air! The Fourth of July and other holidays are widely celebrated with vibrant, exciting fireworks displays. Did you ever wonder how fireworks work?

The Back Story

  • All fireworks work the same basic way. A fuse ignites gunpowder, which explodes.
  • Fireworks also contain small amounts of alkaline Earth metals, such as magnesium, calcium, barium, or strontium. These metals get really hot when the fireworks explode and glow in brilliant colors.
  • Credit: Sakura Mutsuki
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36990317@N02/3407331692/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    The combination of different metals allow for a large variety of fireworks large and small [Figure2]


  • The metals are the secret to the breathtaking beauty of fireworks. Watch this video to learn more about how fireworks work: http://news.discovery.com/tech/videos/how-fireworks-work-video.htm

Show What You Know

Further explore the science of fireworks at the links below. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What chemicals are in gunpowder (also called black powder)? What roles do they play?
  2. Describe the basic chemistry behind a fireworks explosion.
  3. Explain how salts of different alkaline Earth metals give fireworks their glowing colors.
  4. Identify the colors produced by different alkaline Earth metals.

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Chris Edward Moran; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cedwardmoran/542701018; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Sakura Mutsuki; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36990317@N02/3407331692/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0


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