Skip to main content
Select Source:

Xenon (revised)

XENON (REVISED)

Note: This article, originally published in 1998, was updated in 2006 for the eBook edition.

Overview

Xenon is a noble gas. The term noble gas is used to describe the elements in Group 18 (VIIIA) of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to one another. "Noble gas" suggests a group of elements that is "too far above other elements" to react with them. The noble gases are also called the inert gases. That term has the same meaning. The noble gases only react with other elements under very unusual circumstances.

Xenon is very rare in the atmosphere. Its abundance is estimated to be about 0.1 parts per million. Xenon does not have many practical applications. Mostly, it is used to fill specialized lamps.

SYMBOL
Xe

ATOMIC NUMBER
54

ATOMIC MASS
131.29

FAMILY
Group 18 (VIIIA)
Noble gas

PRONUNCIATION
ZEE-non

Discovery and naming

It took chemists more than a hundred years of careful research to understand the composition of air. In the early 1700s, they did not even understand the difference between the air around us and gases, like oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. They used the word "air" to mean the same thing as "gas." Gases were very difficult to study. So it took a long time to figure out how various "airs" and "gases" differed from each other.

Slowly the differences became apparent. In 1774, English chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) realized he could remove a separate gasoxygenfrom air. Later, other gases in the air were identified. These included nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other noble gases. One of the last gases to be isolated was xenon.

Xenon was discovered in 1898 by Scottish chemist and physicist Sir William Ramsay (1852-1916) and English chemist Morris William Travers (1872-1961). Ramsay and Travers used liquid air to make their discovery. Here's how they did the research:

If air is cooled to a very low temperature, it changes from a gas to a liquid. As it warms up, it changes back to a gas. But this change does not take place all at once. As liquid air warms, one gas (nitrogen) boils away first. As the temperature increases further, another gas (argon ) boils off. Still later, a third gas (oxygen) boils off.

Great care must be used in doing this experiment. The first three gases to boil away (nitrogen, oxygen, and argon) make up 99.95 percent of air. It may look as if all the air is gone after the oxygen boils away, but it isn't.

After the oxygen is gone, a tiny bit of liquid air remains. That liquid air contains other atmospheric gases. One of those gases is xenon. Ramsay and Travers first recognized the presence of xenon in liquid air on July 12, 1898. They named the element xenon for the Greek word that means "stranger."

Physical properties

Xenon is a colorless, odorless gas. It has a boiling point of -108.13°C (-162.5°F) and a melting point of C. It may seem strange to talk about the "melting point" and "boiling point" of a gas. So think about the opposite of those two terms. The opposite of melting is "turning from a liquid into a solid." The opposite of boiling is "turning from a gas into a liquid."

Thus, the boiling point of xenon is the temperature at which the gas turns into a liquid. The melting point of xenon is the temperature at which liquid xenon turns into a solid.

The density of xenon gas is 5.8971 grams per liter. That makes xenon about four times as dense as air.

Chemical properties

For many years, xenon was thought to be completely inactive. Inactive means that it does not react with any other element. Then, in 1962, English chemist Neil Bartlett (1932-) made xenon platinofluoride (XePtF6). Bartlett's success inspired other chemists to try making other xenon compounds. Chemists found ways to make such xenon compounds as xenon difluoride (XeF2), xenon tetrafluoride (XeF4), xenon hexafluoride (XeF6), xenon trioxide (XeO3), and xenon oxytetrafluoride (XeOF4).

In the early 1700s, they did not even understand the difference between the air around us and gases, like oxygen, carbon, like oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. They used the word "air" to mean the same thing as "gas."

Occurrence in nature

The Earth's atmosphere contains about 0.1 part per million of xenon. Studies indicate that the atmosphere of Mars may contain about the same amount of xenon, perhaps 0.08 parts per million. The element is not known to occur in the Earth's crust.

Isotopes

Nine naturally occurring isotopes of xenon exist. They are xenon-124, xenon-126, xenon-128, xenon-129, xenon-130, xenon-131, xenon-132, xenon-134, and xenon-136. Isotopes are two or more forms of an element. Isotopes differ from each other according to their mass number. The number written to the right of the element's name is the mass number. The mass number represents the number of protons plus neutrons in the nucleus of an atom of the element. The number of protons determines the element, but the number of neutrons in the atom of any one element can vary. Each variation is an isotope.

At least 18 radioactive isotopes of xenon are known also. A radioactive isotope is one that breaks apart and gives off some form of radiation. Radioactive isotopes are produced when very small particles are fired at atoms. These particles stick in the atoms and make them radioactive.

Two radioactive isotopes of xenonxenon-127 and xenon-133are used in medicine. These isotopes are used to study the flow of blood through the brain and the flow of air through the lungs. In most cases, the patient inhales the radioactive gas through a mask. The xenon gas moves through the body just like oxygen or any other gas. As it travels through the body, the xenon isotope gives off radiation. The radiation can be detected by measuring devices held over the body. Doctors can tell whether the patient's lungs are working properly.

Extraction

Xenon is produced in the same way it was discovered. Liquid air is allowed to evaporate. When most other gases have boiled off, xenon is left behind. The techniques used today are much better than those used by Ramsay and Travers, of course. It is now relatively easy to capture the xenon gas in air by this method.

Uses

The primary use of xenon is in lamps. When an electric current is passed through a gas, it can give off light. Fluorescent lamps and "neon" lights are examples of this process. The kind and color of light given off depend on the gas used in the lamp. Xenon is used when a very bright, sun-like light is needed. For example, the flash units and bright lights used by photographers are often made with xenon gas.

Ultraviolet lights used to sterilize laboratory equipment may also contain xenon. The light produced is strong enough to kill bacteria. Xenon is also used in the manufacture of strobe lights. A strobe light produces a very bright, intense light in very short pulses. Strobe lights appear to "freeze" the movement of an object. Each time the light flashes on, it shines on the moving object for a fraction of a second. The object's motion can be broken down into any number of very short intervals.

Compounds

So far, xenon compounds are only laboratory curiosities. They have no practical applications. (See under "Chemical properties.")

Two radioactive isotopes of xenon are used to study the flow of blood through the brain and the flow of air through the lungs.

Health effects

Xenon is a harmless gas. Some of its compounds, however, are toxic.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Xenon (revised)." Chemical Elements: From Carbon to Krypton. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Xenon (revised)." Chemical Elements: From Carbon to Krypton. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/xenon-revised

"Xenon (revised)." Chemical Elements: From Carbon to Krypton. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/xenon-revised

xenon

xenon (zē´nŏn) [Gr.,=strange], gaseous chemical element; symbol Xe; at. no. 54; at. wt. 131.293; m.p. -111.9°C; b.p. -107.1°C; density 5.86 grams per liter at STP; valence usually 0. Xenon is a rare, colorless, odorless, tasteless, chemically unreactive gas. It is one of the inert gas elements found in Group 18 of the periodic table. Xenon was long considered incapable of chemical reaction, but in 1962 Neil Bartlett, a Canadian chemist, reported synthesis of xenon hexafluoroplatinate, XePtF6, a true compound. Since that time a number of other xenon compounds have been reported. Xenon is present in the atmosphere in extremely low concentration (about one part in 20 million). It is obtained commercially from liquid air. Xenon is used in certain photographic flash lamps, in high-intensity arc lamps for motion picture projection, and in high-pressure arc lamps to produce ultraviolet light. It is used in numerous instruments for radiation detection, e.g., neutron and X-ray counters and bubble chambers. It has found some use in medicine, e.g., as an anesthetic (mainly in Russia). A mixture of oxygen with very high levels of xenon has been breathed by athletes prior to competition to boost erythropoietin (EPO) levels and increase red blood cells and thus enhance performance; such use was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2014. Naturally occurring xenon is a mixture of 9 stable isotopes; 20 short-lived radioactive isotopes are also known. A mixture of stable and unstable isotopes of xenon is produced in nuclear reactors during neutron fission of uranium; one of these, xenon-135, is a very good neutron absorber and must be removed since it poisons the reaction. Xenon was discovered spectroscopically in 1898 by William Ramsay and M. W. Travers, who obtained it by fractional distillation of an impure sample of krypton.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"xenon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"xenon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xenon

"xenon." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xenon

xenon

xenon (symbol Xe) Gaseous nonmetallic element, a noble gas. It was discovered in 1898 by Scottish chemist William Ramsey and English chemist Morris Travers (1872–1961). Xenon is present in the Earth's atmosphere (about one part in 20 million) and is obtained by fractionation of liquid air. Colourless and odourless, it is used in light bulbs, lasers and arc lamps for cinema projection. The element, which has nine stable isotopes, forms some compounds, mostly with fluorine. Properties: at.no. 54; r.a.m. 131.30; r.d. 5.88; m.p. −111.9°C (−169.42°F); b.p. −107.1°C (−160.8°F); most common isotope Xe132 (26.89%).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"xenon." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"xenon." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xenon

"xenon." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xenon

xenon

xe·non / ˈzēˌnän; ˈzenˌän/ • n. the chemical element of atomic number 54, a member of the noble gas series. It is obtained by distillation of liquid air and is used in some specialized electric lamps. (Symbol: Xe) ORIGIN: late 19th cent.: from Greek, neuter of xenos ‘strange.’

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"xenon." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"xenon." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon-0

"xenon." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon-0

xenon

xenon (chem.) heavy inert gaseous element. XIX. — Gr., n. of xénos (see prec.).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"xenon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"xenon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon-1

"xenon." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon-1

xenon

xenonAgamemnon, Memnon •ninon, xenon •noumenon • Trianon • xoanon •organon • Simenon • Maintenon •crampon, kampong, tampon •Nippon • coupon •Akron, Dacron, macron •electron • natron • Hebron • positron •Heilbronn • micron •boron, moron, oxymoron •neutron • interferon •fleuron, Huron, neuron •Oberon • mellotron • aileron •cyclotron • Percheron • Mitterrand •vigneron • croissant • Maupassant •garçon • Cartier-Bresson • exon •frisson • Oxon • chanson • Tucson •soupçon • Aubusson • Besançon •penchant • torchon • cabochon •Anton, canton, Danton •lepton •piton, Teton •krypton • feuilleton • magneton •chiton •photon, proton •croûton, futon •eschaton • peloton • contretemps •telethon •talkathon, walkathon •Avon • tableau vivant • vol-au-vent

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"xenon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"xenon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon

"xenon." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/xenon