Independence Day fireworks: The case of the missing blues

For over a thousand years, a deep-blue firework has eluded pyrotechnicians.  The answer to this riddle is all about the energy. Photo: M. Jaeger

NEW YORK, July 4, 2013 – Millions of Americans will venture out from their backyards to go see fireworks tonight, celebrating the birthday of our great nation. While they will invariably enjoy the show, there is a high probability that there will be one color missing from the display: a deep blue.

Since the Chinese invented fireworks over a thousand years ago, pyrotechnicians have been striving unsuccessfully to produce a deep blue color in their displays. There is no question about what chemicals are required to produce the deep blue color; the tricky part is supplying just the right amount of energy in the flame to properly burn the copper chloride compound that can produce a deep blue color. 

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If there is too much energy (heat), the burning copper chloride compound washes out to a light pale blue. If there is not enough heat energy, the compound fails to ignite.

Recent advances in pyrotechnics using magnalium, a magnesium-aluminum alloy, have aided the advancement of deep-blue fireworks by allowing a greater energy flame that does not wash out the blue color when the copper chloride combusts.  

However, the combustion of the magnalium creates a sparkle effect that typically overpowers the color of the copper chloride.

When pyrotechnicians perfect the deep blue fireworks, Americans will see displays that truly incorporate the colors of our nation, and assuredly will create amazing mortars and rockets that will further dazzle spectators celebrating Independence Day. 

SEE RELATED: Fireworks spark American traditions each Fourth of July

Until then, if you are going to a show tonight, take note of any blue hues you may see, and revel in the knowledge of why deep-blue fireworks are so hard to achieve. 

Be safe and enjoy the show!

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Michael Jaeger

Mike Jaeger's column, Greater than Energy (">Energy") can be found under the Health and Science area of the Washington Times Communities and he has been writing this column since July of 2012.  He occasionally writes pieces on economics and politics as well.  He has expertise in energy, energy markets and energy production and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Applied Science and Technology in Nuclear Engineering Technology.


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