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XENON

DOI: 10.1615/AtoZ.x.xenon

Xenon – Gr. xenon, stranger), Xe; atomic weight 131.30; atomic number 54; melting point –111.9°C; boiling point – 107.1 ± 3°C; density (gas) 5.887 ± 0.009 g/1, specific gravity (liquid) 3.52 (-109°C); valence usually 0.

Discovered by Ramsay and Travers in 1898 in the residue left after evaporating liquid air components. Xenon is a member of the so-called noble or "inert" gases. It is present in the atmosphere to the extent of about one part in twenty million. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere to the extent of 0.08 ppm. The element is found in the gases evolved from certain mineral springs, and is commercially obtained by extraction from liquid air.

Natural xenon is composed of nine stable isotopes. In addition to these, 22 unstable nudides and isomers have been characterized. Before 1962, it had generally been assumed that xenon and other noble gases were unable to form compounds. Evidence has been mounting in the past few years that xenon, as well as other members of the zero valence elements, do form compounds. Among the "compounds" of xenon now reported are xenon hydrate, sodium perxenate, xenon deuterate, difluoride, tetrafluoride, hexafluoride, and XePtF6 and XeRhF6. Xenon trioxide, which is highly explosive, has been prepared. More than 80 xenon compounds have been made with xenon chemically bonded to fluorine and oxygen. Some xenon compounds are colored. Metallic xenon has been produced, using several hundred kilobars of pressure.

Xenon in a vacuum tube produces a beautiful blue glow when excited by an electrical discharge. The gas is used in making electron tubes, stroboscopic lamps, bactericidal lamps, and lamps used to excite ruby lasers for generating coherent light. Xenon is used in the atomic energy field in bubble chambers, probes, and other applications where its high molecular weight is of value. It is also potentially useful as a gas for ion engines. The perxenates are used in analytical chemistry as oxidizing agents. Xe133 and Xe135 are produced by neutron irradiation in aircooled nuclear reactors. Xe133 has useful applications as a radioisotope. Xenon is not toxic, but its compounds are highly toxic because of their strong oxidizing characteristics.

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