Monday, February 22, 2016

Sulfur in Yellows, Reds, and Blues, Oh My!

Sulfur burning at Kawah Ijen (image: Oliver Grunewald)
Sulfur is most certainly one of the coolest elements. Sulfur was one of the few elements that ancient people knew of (back in a time when it was known as "brimstone", and before people even knew what elements actually are). Sulfur is the 10th most abundant element in the universe and the 6th most abundant element on Earth by weight (although most of it is in the core, along with lots of iron and nickel). Sulfur causes our flatulence to smell bad and allows people to perm their hair (due to the disulfide bonds that are broken are reformed between the amino acids in the hair). 

Sulfur also presents itself in some awesome colors when it's in its elemental form. For instance, here's a picture of solid elemental sulfur at room temperature from my book shelf:

Elemental sulfur is a beautiful yellow color in its natural solid form. However, when it melts, it turns various beautiful red colors:

Red molten sulfur at Kawah Ijen volcano (iamge: Photovolcanica)

Yellows and reds are cool, but elemental sulfur also burns in a beautiful blue color. Here's a video from scientificpages on Youtube which shows powdered elemental sulfur burning in open air:

In the video you can see the sulfur turning red as it melts, but you can also see the blue flame forming over it. 

Burning sulfur is something that anyone can try at home, but finding large amounts of elemental sulfur melting and burning in nature will only happen in a few places. One of the best known places where this occurs is in Kawah Ijen volcano, in East Java, Indonesia, where the elemental sulfur extruding from the volcano is harvested by a local company (the image at the top of this post is from Kawah Ijen). Some of the best pictures of the sulfur in Kawah Ijen have been taken by Oliver Grunewald. Here's one of Grunewald's photos of the sulfur being harvested at night:

It's truly a beautiful location for seeing elemental sulfur in all of its various colors.

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