10 Neon Facts - Chemical Element

The normal color of excited neon gas is reddish-orange.
The normal color of excited neon gas is reddish-orange. Jill Tindall / Getty Images

Neon is element number 10 on the periodic table, with the element symbol Ne. While you might think of neon lights when you hear this element name, there are many other interesting properties and uses for this gas. Here are 10 neon facts:

  1. Each neon atom has 10 protons. There are three stable isotopes of the element, with atoms having 10 neutrons (neon-20), 11 neutrons (neon-21), and 12 neutrons (neon-22). Because it has a stable octet for its outer electron shell, neon atoms usually have 11 electrons. The element is in group 18 of the periodic table, making it the first noble gas with a full octet (helium is lighter and stable with only 2 electrons). It's the second lightest noble gas.
  1. At room temperature and pressure, neon is an odorless, colorless, diamagnetic gas. It belongs to the noble gas element group and shares the property with other elements of that group of being nearly inert (not very reactive). In fact, there are no known stable neon compounds, even though some other noble gases have been found to form chemical bonds. A possible exception is solid neon clathrate hydrate, which may be formed from neon gas and water ice at pressure of 0.35-0.48 GPa.
  2. The name of the element comes from the Greek word "novum" or "neos", which means "new". British chemists Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers discovered the element in 1898. Neon was discovered in a sample of liquid air. The gases that escaped were identified as nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and krypton. When the krypton was gone, the remaining gas was found to emit a bright red light when ionized. Ramsay's son suggested the name for the new element, neon.
  1. Neon is both rare and abundant, depending where you're looking for it. Although neon is a rare gas in the Earth's atmosphere (about 0.0018% by mass), it is the 5th most abundant element in the universe (1 part per 750), where it is produced during the alpha process in stars. The sole source of neon is from extraction from liquefied air. Neon is also found in diamonds and some volcanic vents. Because neon is rare in air, it's an expensive gas to produce, about 55 times more expensive than liquid helium.
  1. Even though it's rare and expensive on Earth, there is a fair amount of neon in the average home. If you could extract all the neon from a new home in the United States, you have about 10 liters of the gas!
  2. Neon is a monatomic gas, so it is lighter (less dense) than air, which consists mostly of nitrogen (N2). If a balloon is filled with neon, it will rise. However, this will occur at a much slower rate than you would see with a helium balloon. As with helium, inhaling neon gas poses an asphyxiation risk if not enough oxygen is available to breathe.
  3. Neon has many uses besides lighted signs. It is also used in helium-neon lasers, masers, vacuum tubes, lightning arresters, and high-voltage indicators. The liquid form of the element is a cryogenic refrigerant. Neon is 40 times more effective as a refrigerant than liquid helium and 3 times better than liquid hydrogen. Because of its high refrigeration capacity, liquid neon is used in cryonics, to freeze corpses for preservation or for potential revival in the future. The liquid can cause immediate frostbite to exposed skin or mucous membranes.
  4. When low pressure neon gas is electrified, it glows reddish orange. This is the true color of neon lights. Other colors of lights are produced by coating the interior of the glass with phosphors. Other gases glow when excited -- these are not neon signs even though many people commonly assume they are.
  1. One of the more interesting facts about neon is the light emitted from ionized neon can pass through water fog. This is why neon lighting is used in cold regions and for aircraft and airports.
  2. Neon has a melting point of ‑248.59 °C (‑415.46 °F) and boiling point of ‑246.08 °C (‑410.94 °F). Solid neon forms a crystal with a close-packed cubic structure. Because of its stable octet, the electronegativity and electron affinity of neon approaches zero.