Welcome to another instalment of the Element of the Month – a regular feature on the Radleys blog where we take a good long look at one of the 118 (and counting) elements of the periodic table.
How do we choose our element of the month? It’s simple! We use a random number generator to produce a figure between 1 and 118.
This month we got number 10, which makes neon (Ne) our 13th element of the month.
Neon – The Key Facts
Neon is the fifth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and carbon. It’s a noble gas with an atomic number of 10. It’s about two thirds the density of air, and it’s colourless, odourless, inert, and monatomic under standard conditions.
Once nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide have been removed, neon is one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air. The other two are krypton and xenon.
Large volumes of neon are built up during the alpha-capture fusion process in stars. However, it is very rare on Earth.
Indeed, neon is rare on all inner terrestrial planets, simply because it’s highly volatile and incapable of forming compounds that could fix it to solids. Also, because it’s lighter than air, it escapes from Earth’s atmosphere.
The Discovery of Neon
Neon was discovered in London in 1898 by a pair of British chemists: Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers.
Ramsay chilled a sample of air until it became a liquid. He then warmed this liquid, capturing the gases as they boiled off.
Nitrogen, oxygen, and argon had already been identified. Over a six week period, Ramsay and Travers then isolated the remaining gases in order of abundance.
First, they discovered krypton. But once this had been removed, they had a gas that gave a brilliant red light under spectroscopic discharge.
This was neon, and it was given its name by Ramsay’s son. The term neon comes from the Greek analogue of “novum”, which means “new”.