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Blended Bites Blog

The Physics of Fireworks

Jessica Anderson

© Angela Farley | Dreamstime Stock Photos
It's nap time in my house, which means I get a chance to wind down and hear myself think. Today, I have been contemplating firework shows. We are actually headed to see one tonight. A lot of people are aware that firework shows include a chemical reaction, but you don't often hear people talk about the physics behind the shows. While doing a little research I came across the following websites (I especially like the first one):

The Physics of Fireworks
http://library.thinkquest.org/15384/physics/
http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/07/03/weekend-diversion-the-physics/

Things to think about:

-The more blackpowder put in a mortar, the more gases, hence a greater force to propel (action-reaction) the object (in the form of thrust).
-Larger shells (ones with more powder) will have an initial velocity greater than smaller shells.  For instance a shell that is 2" in diameter might travel at an initial velocity of around 118 ft/sec. Whereas a shell 36" in diameter may travel upwards to 480 ft/sec. (see second website for visual).
-Greater initial velocities result in greater heights.
-Using the projectile motion formula, you can determine what height a shell will reach.
-The angle of the launched projectile also plays into the height the object will reach.

I could go on and on...

As educators, a question to ask is how might we use this example in our classrooms to engage students? Tweet your ideas and I'll add them to this post @triscicurious.

For those of you wishing to just enjoy the view, you can forget all of the above. However, just remember if it weren't for science you wouldn't be enjoying the spectacle.

Happy 4th of July everyone!