At the Central PA 4th Fests in 2008 through 2010, Penn State students, faculty, and friends handed out approximately 35,000 diffraction grating masks. In 2011, we will be back and will have many more to distribute! This may be the last year we are able to distribute masks.
If you watched the fireworks through the film in the mask, you probably saw the fireworks as you've never seen them before. Each point of light was dispersed into a rainbow of colors.
While the diffraction masks added a touch of beauty to the 4th Fest, they also help to illustrate how scientists - including astronomers - use instruments to learn about the world around us. With this website, we hope to explain a little bit about how fireworks work, why they look the way they do through the masks, and how astronomers use similar tools to study distant planets, stars, and galaxies.
This project was generously funded through a NASA / Space Telescope Science Institute IDEAS award to Penn State.
We would like to thank Bernie Kiesling, Skip Webster, Rita Graef, and the other members of the Central PA 4th Fest organization.
We would also like to thank the Penn State Eberly College of Science Outreach Office, the Penn State Center for Science and the Schools, and the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium.
The masks were produced by American Paper Optics.
An image on the mask and some of the images on this site come from Prof. Brian Niece of Assumption College.