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The Chemistry Behind the Colors of Fireworks

Fireworks are a Fourth of July staple, but did you know that there is a large amount of science that goes into them?

For example, you may have wondered why certain fireworks are red while others are blue or orange. It turns out that different chemicals used in different fireworks are the reason for the colors.

So how does this happen? This requires a trip back to Chemistry 101.

Atoms are the basic building blocks of all matter, and atoms are made up of neutrons and protons in their nucleus while electrons orbit around the nucleus. Electrons can be at different levels or orbits around the nucleus, and these orbits are at different energy levels. To put it another way, electrons need more energy if they are orbiting further away from the center of the atom and less energy when they are closer to the nucleus.

Electrons will often jump between different orbits, and this requires either the electron to gain or release energy. When the electron jumps down from a higher energy orbit it releases energy. The energy that is released is called a photon, and we see this as visible light.

Through the wonders of chemistry, photons released from atoms of different elements appear as different colors. And this brings us back to fireworks.

Below is a table of the different elements used to create different colored fireworks.

When the fireworks explode, electrons within the atoms of these different elements absorb energy and get “excited” which causes them to move into the higher energy orbits. When they come down to lower energy orbits, photons are released which allow us to see the great colors during a fireworks show.

Enjoy whichever fireworks show you plan to watch this Fourth of July!

-Chief Meteorologist Brian Walder

Brian Walder

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