Electron configuration and elemental properties of xenon.
Electron configuration and elemental properties of xenon.
Credit: Greg Robson/Creative Commons, Andrei Marincas Shutterstock
Atomic Number: 54
Atomic Symbol: Xe
Atomic Weight: 131.293
Melting Point: -169.22 F (-111.79 C)
Boiling Point: -162.62 F (-108.12 C)

Word origin: Xenon comes from the Greek term for stranger.

Discovery: The element was discovered by Scottish chemist William Ramsay and English chemist Morris Travers in 1898.

Properties of xenon

Xenon is one of the inert or noble gases. It’s odorless, colorless, tasteless and chemically non-reactive. [See Periodic Table of the Elements]

Prior to 1962, scientists believed that xenon and other noble gases were unable to form compounds. However, evidence shows that xenon can form some compounds including sodium perxenate, xenon deuterate, xenon hydrate, difluoride, tetrafluoride and hexafluoride. Scientists have also produced metallic xenon using several hundred kilobars of pressure. Highly explosive xenon trioxide is another compound that has been prepared. By chemically bonding xenon to fluorine and oxygen, more than 80 compounds have been made. Natural xenon has nine stable isotopes and 20 unstable isotopes. In a gas-filled tube, xenon emits blue or light lavender glow when excited by electrical discharge.

Xenon is a very rare gas. This is a 5-cm vial of glowing ultrapure xenon.
Xenon is a very rare gas. This is a 5-cm vial of glowing ultrapure xenon.
Credit: Images of elements

Sources of xenon

Xenon is rare and exists as a trace gas in Earth’s atmosphere to the extent of about one part in 20 million.  This is about the same abundance as on Mars' atmosphere where Xenon is present at 0.08 ppm. The element is also found in gases emitted from some mineral springs. Xenon is only commercially obtained by industrial liquid-air plants that can extract the gas.

Uses of xenon

Xenon is used in photographic flash lamps, stroboscopic lamps, bactericidal lamps, high-intensive arc-lamps for motion picture projection and high-pressure arc lamps to product ultraviolet light.  In nuclear energy, xenon is used in bubble chambers, probes and other applications. Headlights with xenon "blue" and fog lights are used on some vehicles and in very bright lamps used for deep-sea observation. These are said to illuminate better than conventional lights.

(Source: Los Alamos National Laboratory)