The winter solstice marks the first day of winter. This year it occurs at 11:12 (11:12 am) Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on December 21, 2012. Are you looking for a way to celebrate using chemistry? Here's a festive holiday video for those of you with pyro tendencies: Lighting a Solstice Bonfire with Thermite
. The thermite reaction
has nondestructive practical applications, such as welding and ore purification, plus it's an interesting way to light a traditional solstice fire. The reaction basically involves burning metal, much as you might burn wood, except a higher temperature is required. Thermite consists of aluminum powder together with a metal oxide, usually iron oxide. These are mixed with a binder to keep them from separating. Thermite is stable until it is heated to its ignition temperature. This temperature is very high, so you can't just put a match to thermite and initiate the reaction. A propane torch can be used, though it's dangerous. More commonly, magnesium strips are used as fuses. Sparklers burn hot enough to ignite thermite. So does the reaction between potassium permanganate and ethylene glycol or glycerine. Very finely powdered iron(III) oxide and aluminum can be ignited by a lighter or book of matches, though tongs must be used to avoid getting a flash burn.
Although black or blue iron oxide (Fe3O4) is most often used as an oxidizing agent, red iron(III) oxide (Fe2O3), manganese oxide (MnO2), chromium oxide (Cr2O3), or copper(II) oxide may be used. Aluminum is almost always the metal that is oxidized.
Fe2O3 + 2Al → 2Fe + Al2O3 + heat and light
Here's a photo of the thermite reaction: