Noble Gases Properties, Uses and Sources

Noble Gas Element Group

Laser beams
The noble gases are used in lamps and lasers, such as this krypton laser. They are also used to form inert atmospheres. Charles O'Rear / Getty Images

Learn about the properties of the noble gas group of elements:

Location and List of the Noble Gases on the Periodic Table

The noble gases, also known as the inert gases or rare gases, are located in Group VIII of the periodic table. This is the column of elements along the far right side of the periodic table. Group VIII is sometimes called Group 0. This group is a subset of the nonmetals. The noble gases are:

  • helium (He)
  • neon (Ne)
  • argon (Ar)
  • krypton (Kr)
  • xenon (Xe)
  • radon (Rn)
  • oganesson (element 118)

Noble Gas Properties

The noble gases are relatively nonreactive. In fact, they are the least reactive elements on the periodic table. This is because they have a complete valence shell. They have little tendency to gain or lose electrons. In 1898, Hugo Erdmann coined the phrase "noble gas" to reflect the low reactivity of these elements, in much the same way as the noble metals are less reactive than other metals. The noble gases have high ionization energies and negligible electronegativities. The noble gases have low boiling points and are all gases at room temperature.

Summary of Common Properties

  • Fairly nonreactive
  • Complete outer electron or valence shell (oxidation number = 0)
  • High ionization energies
  • Very low electronegativities
  • Low boiling points (all monatomic gases at room temperature)
  • No color, odor, or flavor under ordinary conditions
  • Nonflammable
  • At low pressure, they will conduct electricity and fluoresce

Uses of the Noble Gases

The noble gases are used to form inert atmospheres, typically for arc welding, to protect specimens, and to deter chemical reactions. The elements are used in lamps, such as neon lights and krypton headlamps, and in lasers. Helium is used in balloons, for deep-sea diving air tanks, and to cool superconducting magnets.

Misconceptions About the Noble Gases

Although the noble gases have been called the rare gases, they aren't particularly uncommon on Earth or in the universe. In fact, argon is the 3rd or 4th most abundant gas in the atmosphere (1.3% by mass or 0.94% by volume), while neon, krypton, helium, and xenon are notable trace elements.​

For a long time, many people believed the noble gases to be completely nonreactive and unable to form chemical compounds. Although these elements don't form compounds readily, examples of molecules containing xenon, krypton, and radon have been found. At high pressure, even helium, neon, and argon participate in chemical reactions.

Sources of the Noble Gases

Neon, argon, krypton, and xenon all are found in air and are obtained by liquefying it and performing fractional distillation. The major source of helium is from the cryogenic separation of natural gas. Radon, a radioactive noble gas, is produced from the radioactive decay of heavier elements, including radium, thorium, and uranium. Element 118 is a man-made radioactive element, produced by striking a target with accelerated particles. In the future, extraterrestrial sources of noble gases may be found. Helium, in particular, is more abundant on larger planets than it is on Earth.