10 Interesting Facts About Gold

The precious metal and element has many uses other than as jewelry

Gold bars close up.

KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/Getty Images

There are many interesting facts about the element gold, which is listed on the periodic table as Au. This is the only truly yellow metal on Earth, but there's a lot more to learn about gold.

Gold Facts

  1. Gold is the only metal that is yellow or "golden." Other metals may develop a yellowish color, but only after they have oxidized or reacted with other chemicals.
  2. Nearly all the gold on Earth came from meteorites that bombarded the planet over 200 million years after it formed.
  3. The element symbol for gold—Au—comes from the old Latin name for gold, aurum, which means "shining dawn" or "glow of sunrise." The word gold comes from the Germanic languages, originating from the Proto-Germanic gulþ and Proto-Indo-European ghel, meaning "yellow/green." The pure element has been known since ancient times.
  4. Gold is extremely ductile. A single ounce of gold (about 28 grams) can be stretched into a gold thread 5 miles (8 kilometers) long. Gold threads can even be used in embroidery.
  5. Malleability is a measure of how easily a material can be hammered into thin sheets. Gold is the most malleable element. A single ounce of gold can be beaten into a 300-square-foot sheet. A sheet of gold can be made thin enough to be transparent. Very thin sheets of gold may appear greenish blue because gold strongly reflects red and yellow.
  6. Although gold is a heavy, dense metal, it is generally considered nontoxic. Gold metal flakes may be eaten in foods or drinks, although it is a common allergen for some.
  7. Pure elemental gold is 24 karats, while 18-karat gold is 75 percent pure gold, 14-karat gold is 58.5 percent pure gold, and 10-karat gold is 41.7 percent pure gold. The remaining portion of the metal usually used in gold jewelry and other items is silver, but items can also consist of other metals or a combination of metals, such as platinum, copper, palladium, zinc, nickel, iron, and cadmium.
  8. Gold is a noble metal. It is relatively unreactive and resists degradation by air, moisture, or acidic conditions. While acids dissolve most metals, a special mixture of acids called aqua regia is used to dissolve gold.
  9. Gold has many uses aside from its monetary and symbolic value. Among other applications, it is used in electronics, electrical wiring, dentistry, medicine, radiation shielding, and in coloring glass.
  10. High-purity metallic gold is odorless and tasteless. This makes sense since the metal is unreactive. Metal ions confer flavor and odor to metallic elements and compounds.
View Article Sources
  1. Chen, Jennifer, and Heather Lampel. "Gold Contact Allergy: Clues and Controversies." Dermatitis, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 69-77. doi:10.1097/DER.0000000000000101

    Möller, Halvor. "Contact allergy to gold as a model for clinical-experimental research." Contact Dermatitis, vol. 62, no. 4, 2010, pp. 193-200. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.2010.01671.x