Sparkle sparkle

October 27, 2011 at 9:32 am | Posted in I didn't know that! | Leave a comment
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Sparkle sparkle

It’s that time of year again – no we’re not talking about Christmas – it’s Bonfire Night, and with it come various fireworks and sparklers.

I love a sparkler and I must admit to sulking like a little girl if I don’t get to write my name with one – but what are they actually made of?

A sparkler consists over several substances:

  • An oxidiser – often potassium nitrate or potassium chlorate.
  • A fuel – charcoal and sulphur.
  • A combustible binder – usually a sugar, starch or shellac.
  • Iron, steel, aluminium or other metal power – very important for a sparkler’s characteristic shower of sparks!

The formula can be really quite simple consisting of only potassium percholorate, titanium or aluminium and dextrin –all moulded on to a rigid stick.

So what happens when you set light to your sparkler? The oxidiser produces oxygen to burn the mixture, which reacts with the fuel – acting as a reducing agent – while regulators control how long the sparkler burns for. Fine metal powers react more quickly than a coarse power.

And what about the colours? A simple sparkler made of aluminium or magnesium burns white, but add a bit of iron and you get orange sparks while ferrotitanium gives the sparks a yellow-gold tinge.

But let’s be honest – who’s really thinking about the chemistry behind their sparkler while pretending to be the Statue of Liberty? Not me that’s for sure!

Just remember these things get hot, and can even reach temperatures of 1000°C – that’s true you know – so be careful out there!

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