Thursday, February 4, 2010

February's Element of the Month: Xenon!

February's Element of the Month:

Atomic Mass: 131.29 amu
Melting Point: -111.7 °C
Boiling Point: -108.1 °C

An awful lot of elements turn out to be silverish metals, but at anything like room temperature, or for that matter any natural temperature to be found on this planet, Xenon is a colorless gas.

The Centerfold!

Being a very stable element, it doesn't really combine into very many compounds. It's also very rare, making up only .09 parts per million of the Earth's atmosphere -- meaning that there is only about a third as much of it in natural air as there is of nitrous oxide, laughing gas.

Here's a neat trick you can play with Xenon: you know how you can inhale helium and then talk in that squeaky chipmunk voice? If you inhale Xenon, you'll speak in a very deep voice. True story. But be careful not to inhale too deeply, because Xenon functions as a general anesthetic, and incapacitating yourself really kills the joke. And quite possibly the joker. Xenon is, incidentally, probably the best substance available for general anesthesia, in theory. Unfortunately it costs ten bucks per liter, and that adds up to a ton of cash over the course of your typical surgery, even by medical standards.

Xenon is best known, I suppose, as one of the elements that you can make glow when you run current through it. Xenon lights are very bright and emit a spectrum of light reasonably close to regular daylight, so they are used in flashbulbs and film projectors along with things like car lights and a lot of what you might casually call "neon signs." If it's using xenon, though, it's not a neon sign. It's a xenon sign.


Cartophiliac said...

and you forget to mention that she makes one hell of a warrior princess!

Elizabeth said...

Here I thought my current incarnation as a groggy baritone was because of my head cold - however, on rediagnosis via EotM, I believe I am merely xenophobic.

Elaine said...

My favorite part is the picture; your photography skill is awesome. The composition is especially impressive.

Jenners said...

I love how you captured Xenon's personality in that shot ... well done.

And I'm scared to try helium so I think I'll leave Xenon alone!