4thFest 2010: watch fireworks with free enhancement glasses

June 30, 2010

The Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics will provide special eyeglasses, free of charge, to fireworks fans at the Central PA 4thFest -- a State College Fourth-of-July event featuring patriotic entertainment by local artists, games, rides and, of course, a spectacular fireworks display.

Like prisms, the special glasses break light up into its individual colors so that spectators can see the fireworks in a more scientific way. Astronomers use technology similar to that of the eyeglasses in their research labs and in telescopes to determine the composition of extremely distant objects, such as planets and star clusters.

"Seen through the glasses, each explosion during the fireworks show registers as several lines of color," said Brendan Mullan, a graduate student in the astronomy department who is helping to organize the event. "The colors of individual lines and their locations along the spectrum can tell you what element made the flash."

Each of these colors is a form of energy that is created when electrons of atoms from particular elements -- such as the calcium or sodium from which many fireworks are made -- jump from positions of higher energy to positions of lower energy.

"These glasses are a fun way to show people how we know what faraway stars and galaxies are made of," said Chris Palma, senior lecturer in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. Volunteers will distribute the eyeglasses, made by American Paper Optics, from 4 to 8:30 p.m. on July 4, at the astronomy department's Founders' Mall table at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Find more information online at http://www.astro.psu.edu/astrofest/fireworks.html or contact the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics (by phone at 814-865-0418 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by e-mail at planetarium@astro.psu.edu).

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Last Updated November 18, 2010