The quantum physics behind fireworks displays | by Ethan Siegel | Starts With A Bang! | Jul, 2024

All across the world, fireworks displays mark a variety of holidays and celebrations, with many of the most spectacular displays occurring annually on July 4th in the United States. Although there’s a lot of science involved in putting on a fantastic fireworks display, it’s generally underappreciated how important quantum physics is for driving it. (Credit: Mike Halsall/flickr)

From the explosions themselves to their unique and vibrant colors, the fireworks displays we adore require quantum physics.

This Thursday, July 4, 2024, is remarkable for a number of reasons. It happens to be just one day before aphelion: the day where the Earth is at its most distant from the Sun as it revolves through the Solar System in its elliptical orbit. It’s the 248th anniversary of when the United States officially declared independence from, and war on, the nation of Great Britain. And it marks the annual date where the wealthiest nation in the world sets off more explosives — in the form of fireworks — than any other.

Whether you’re an amateur hobbyist, a professional installer, or simply a spectator, fireworks shows are driven by the same laws of physics that govern all of nature. Individual fireworks all contain the same four component stages: launch, fuse, burst charges, and stars. Without quantum physics, not a single one of them would be possible. Here’s the science behind how every component of these spectacular shows works.

The anatomy of a firework consists of a large variety of elements and stages. However, the same four basic elements are the same across all types and styles of fireworks: the lift charge, the main fuse, a burst charge, and stars. Variations in the diameter of the launch tube, the length of the time-delay fuse, and the height of the fireworks are all necessary to ignite the stars with the proper conditions during the break. (Credit: PBS/Nova Online)

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