10 Facts About the Element Mercury

Interesting and Important Facts and Figures You Should Know

Five rounded beads of liquid mercury, also known as quicksilver
Rounded beads of liquid mercury, also known as quicksilver. videophoto / Getty Images

Mercury is a shiny, silvery liquid metal, sometimes called quicksilver. It is a transition metal with atomic number 80 on the periodic table, atomic weight of 200.59, and the element symbol Hg. Here are some fast facts plus 10 interesting element facts about mercury. You can find even more detailed information on the mercury facts page.

Fast Facts: The Element Mercury

  • Element Name: Mercury
  • Element Symbol: Hg
  • Atomic Number: 80
  • Atomic Weight: 200.592
  • Classification: Transition Metal or Post-Transition Metal
  • State of Matter: Liquid
  • Name Origin: The symbol Hg comes from the name hydrargyrum, which means "water-silver." The name mercury comes from the Roman god Mercury, known for his swiftness.
  • Discovered By: Known before 2000 BCE in China and India
  1. Mercury is the only metal that is a liquid at standard temperature and pressure. The only other liquid element under standard conditions is bromine (a halogen), although the metals rubidium, cesium, and gallium melt just warmer than room temperature. Mercury has a very high surface tension, so it forms rounded beads of liquid.
  2. Although mercury and all of its compounds are known to be highly toxic, it was considered therapeutic throughout much of history.
  3. The modern element symbol for mercury is Hg, which is the symbol for another name for mercury: hydrargyrum. Hydrargyrum comes from Greek words for "water-silver" (hydr- means water, argyros means silver).
  4. Mercury is a very rare element in the Earth's crust. It accounts for only about only 0.08 parts per million (ppm). It is mainly found in the mineral cinnabar, which is mercuric sulfide. Mercuric sulfide is the source of the red pigment called vermilion.
  5. Mercury generally is not allowed on aircraft because it combines so readily with aluminum, a metal that is common on aircraft. When mercury forms an amalgam with aluminum, the oxide layer that protects aluminum from oxidizing is disrupted. This causes aluminum to corrode, in much the same way as iron rusts.
  1. Mercury does not react with most acids.
  2. Mercury is a relatively poor conductor of heat. Most metals are excellent thermal conductors. It is a mild electrical conductor. The freezing point (-38.8 degrees Celsius) and boiling point (356 degrees Celsius) of mercury are closer together than for any other metals.
  3. Although mercury usually exhibits a +1 or +2 oxidation state, sometimes it has a +4 oxidation state. The electron configuration causes mercury to behave somewhat like a noble gas. Like noble gases, mercury forms relatively weak chemical bonds with other elements. It forms amalgams with all the other metals, except for iron. This makes iron a good choice to make containers to hold and transport mercury.
  4. The element Mercury is named for the Roman god Mercury. Mercury is the only element to retain its alchemical name as its modern common name. The element was known to ancient civilizations, dating back to at least 2000 BCE Vials of pure mercury have been found in Egyptian tombs from the 1500s BCE.
  1. Mercury is used in fluorescent lamps, thermometers, float valves, dental amalgams, in medicine, for the production of other chemicals, and to make liquid mirrors. Mercury(II) fulminate is an explosive used as a primer in firearms. The disinfectant mercury compound thimerosal is an organomercury compound found in vaccines, tattoo inks, contact lens solutions, and cosmetics. 

Sources

  • Lide, D.R., editor. Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. 86th edition, CRC Press, 2005, pp. 4.125–4.126.
  • Meija, J., et al. "Atomic Weights of the Elements 2013 (IUPAC Technical Report)." Pure and Applied Chemistry, vol. 88, no. 3, 2016, pp. 265–91.
  • Weast, R.C., editor. Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. 64th edition, CRC Press, 1984, p. E110.