Setting aside for the moment legal and environmental concerns: is it possible (scientifically, anyway) to use nuclear weapons technology for amusement (without killing the spectators)? Could a fireworks shell be made with a few nanograms (or however much you need) of plutonium to create a louder and brighter explosion, but yet doesn’t kill the crowd or sicken them with radiation poisoning?
Further to this line of discussion: I note that fireworks technology seems to have been basically the same for centuries. Are there any pending advancements in the field? Is it possible to create bigger, brighter, and louder explosions than what we currently have, or has the technology maxed out at least w/r/t not killing, blinding, or maiming the spectators?
I think part of the problem is what they call “critical mass.” IANA nuclear physicist but I suspect that if you have enough mass to sustain a nuclear chain reaction that you have a “boom” that is a whole lot bigger than what you need to send up a fireworks rocket, and I don’t think you can sidestep the radiation issue.
I suppose if it were that easy and safe, they would use it to send the Space Shuttle up instead of all that pesky liquid oxygen.
If you set off the “nuclear fireworks” at a sufficient distance from the spectators, you could use full-yield nuclear bombs to put on the most awesome Fourth of July show ever! Lots of people (scientists and soldiers and such) watched nuclear tests from a (more-or-less) safe distance back in the day.
Of course eventually we’d all get cancer from the increased background radiation from all the fallout, but the OP did say “setting aside for the moment legal and environmental concerns”.
You could also make nuclear fireworks by making a crappy bomb. Bring the radioactive stuff together to slowly such that only a small amount of fission takes place before the radioactive stuff is separated by the explosion. I believe term is fizzle. It is a little wasteful and scatters a bunch of radio active metal around but that is a small price to pay for an entertaining explosion.
If you wanted to create a pretty display using a nuclear explosion you could launch it into space and detonate there. In 1962 the US government conducted a test that did just that called starfish prime. They sent up a 1.5 megaton device and exploded it about 250 miles above the pacific. This produced an artificial aurora effect that lasted several minutes which I imagine could be somewhat enhanced by design. You could also sheath the weapon in material that burned in various colors upon re-entry into the atmosphere after the initial explosion.
Fireworks are not driven by technology as much as by security concerns. In parts of Washington state legal fireworks have to contain 500 g or less of powder. (In other parts of WA, they’re not legal at any size). Clearly, they do make them bigger without using any extra technology, but you need a license to buy the more expensive fireworks that are used by cities for their displays.
There’s no reason you can’t make fireworks from TNT, C4 or other military grade explosives, but then you’d have huge amounts of poorly regulated high explosives wandering around the world. Terrorists would love that; as it stands now, they can make better explosives in their kitchen than the fireworks they could buy.
It’s also worth pointing out that the explosive yield is not really related to the visual effect that you want out of a firework. You might get a bigger bang out of C4, but all of the colors come from various non-explosive chemicals added to the firework.
Ditto this: I also think they’re getting bigger. The last time I attended the Hong Kong fireworks for Chinese New Year (2005) the chrysanthemum bursts - in five-pointed star and Saturn shapes, that hung there for a few seconds before dispersing - were about half a mile vertically in the air, judging by the differential between seeing the explosion and hearing it, and appeared to be about a quarter-mile across.
One other innovation that I observed in the same display was a bunch of fireworks that exploded invisibly, then dropped thousands of little paper lanterns, with “candles” inside of them that came floating down out of the sky. It was surprisingly moving.
There was an article on Slate.com I read a few days ago saying that in 1993ish, a company was able to create fireworks with patterns. That and Disneyland’s invention of the air cannon fireworks delivery system seems to be all the innovation the art has had in a while