A Little Fire Turns This Powder Into A Writhing Mass Of Colorful Snakes

Sep 2, 2015 By John-Michael Bond
Mercury(II) thiocyanate, or (Hg(SCN)2) to its friends, is an inorganic chemical compound with a deceptively simple look. In its standard form, it looks like some unassuming white powder. But Mercury thiocyanate holds a secret. When ignited it produces an effect known as the Pharaoh's serpent, and it's an insane chemical reaction to behold.

With the touch of a hot enough heat source, large coiling masses of solid, oddly colored tentacles slowly burst forth from the powder, accompanied by a bright flame. This exothermic reaction was discovered by the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler in 1821. We can only imagine his surprise the first time he saw this incredible, spontaneous snake pit of chemistry.
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