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The Elements of a Good Firework Show


On the Fourth of July, people all across the country will gather for cookouts and firework shows commemorating the Nation’s birthday. Here in Washington, DC, more than half a million people are expected to gather for the annual pyrotechnic extravaganza on the National Mall. Fireworks shows feature spectacular colors, shapes and special effects that would not be possible without minerals! The same minerals that hold up buildings, power smart phones, and provide essential nutrients are the same ones that light up the sky on the Fourth of July.

Here are a few examples of minerals and the colors they produce in fireworks:

A side-by-side image of strontium and a red firework exploding against a black background

A sample of celestite, a common source of strontium, and a red firework. Firework image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Red Fireworks & Strontium—Named for the Scottish village of Strontian, strontium gives red fireworks their deep hue. These fireworks burn a compound known as strontium nitrate, which turns a brilliant red. Strontium’s other main use these days is in ferrite magnets.

A side-by-side image of copper and a blue firework exploding against a black background

A blue firework and a sample of native copper, the element that gives blue fireworks their color. Firework image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Blue Fireworks & Copper—Despite the color of Lady Liberty, copper does not burn green. Instead, copper turns fireworks a dazzling blue.

A side-by-side image of sodium and a yellow firework exploding against a black background

A sample of sodium-rich plagioclase and a yellow firework. Firework image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Yellow Fireworks & Sodium—it’s not just an essential nutrient; sodium is a vital part of your Fourth of July fireworks celebration too! Those exploding suns in the sky that rain a cascade of yellow are burning sodium nitrate.

A side-by-side image of barite and a green firework exploding against a black background

A green-hued firework and a sample of the mineral barite, a common source of barium. Firework image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Green Fireworks & Barium—In addition to allowing doctors to see inside you, barium gives fireworks a distinctive green.

A side-by-side image of iron filings and a gold sparks firework exploding against a black background

Iron filings give fireworks like this one their gold spark effects. Both images credit Wikimedia Commons.

Golden Sparks & Iron—It’s not just the colors that enthrall us at firework shows, it’s the effects too! One of the most common is a cataract of golden sparks, showering down from the main explosion. Those little golden sparks are formed from iron filings, the same things used in your science class to show the direction of a magnetic field.

Brilliant fireworks displays are greatly enhanced thanks to minerals. While enjoying the shows all across the Nation this Fourth, remember to be safe and leave the making of fireworks to the professionals.

And for those coming to Washington DC for the show, check out the majestic monuments that surround the National Mall and read up on where those iconic stones came from.

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Page Last Modified: November 7, 2013