Anyone who has taken a bite of a wintergreen Lifesaver in the dark knows the legend of the blue lightning trapped inside is no schoolyard yarn. If you bite down on a wintergreen candy in the dark, you see a magical burst of blue light erupt from the candy.
Thanks to the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel, there's a slow-motion video of this reaction that will satisfy the curious child in you who probably bit candy in a dark bathroom mirror at some point. The hosts smash Wint-O-Green Lifesavers with a hammer in front of a high-speed camera, giving you a close-up look at the blue lightning rippling across the candy as it shatters.
While it feels like magic, it's actually something called triboluminescence. When you bite into any candy made with real sugar, the crystalline sugar molecules have electrons ripped away from the nucleus as the sugar crystals are broken apart by your teeth. The stray electrons collide with nitrogen in the air. As the energy is transferred to the nitrogen, excess energy is released as light. (You might remember this if you're a Peanuts fan because Marcie totally explained the hell out of triboluminescence once.)
When this happens with most sugars, the light is largely ultraviolet, which you aren't able to see with a naked eye. However, wintergreen flavoring, as highlighted by Cool Science, "is a natural fluorescent dye called methyl salicylate." It creates a brighter, longer-lasting flash of light after absorbing ultraviolet light and re-emitting it in a way you can see.
h/t Boing Boing
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