Friday, July 1, 2016

Sparklers & Rocket Launches

My husband holding the sparks

My husband and I were playing with sparklers last night in anticipation of the American Independence Day. Being the scientist I am, I immediately wondered about the shapes, colors, and chemical reactions of sparklers. I was able to find out a lot of information about the chemistry of these simple fireworks, which is so interesting! But I'm a physicist, I want to understand the physics.

In general, sparks are created when a strong electric field accelerates free electrons, creating ions and freeing more electrons. This creates an electrically conductive area, allowing for a sudden flow of electricity. However, this is not the kind of sparks that sparklers create.

Pyrotechnics, fire caused by chemical reactions, is what fuels sparkler fun. Sparklers burn metallic fuel explosively, producing branching sparks. Common sparkler fuels include aluminium, magnesium, magnalium, iron, titanium, and ferrotitanium. I don't understand the physics of the branching process and I was unable to find a resource describing it. If anyone reading this knows more, please comment below!

Fireworks are fascinating and beautiful, but fireworks of a bigger kind are even better. I'm still learning how to use my new telephoto lens, but I still managed to capture the powerful fireworks below. Happy birthday, America!

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on May 27, 2016

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch on June 15, 2016

ULA Atlas V launch on June 24, 2016

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