Xenon (Xe) is a colorless, odorless, highly unreactive gaseous element found in minute quantities in the atmosphere with the atomic number 54. Xenon was named after the word ‘Xenos,’ which means ‘stranger’ in Greek.
Fact 1. Sir William Ramsay and Morris M. Travers discovered xenon on July 12, 1898. They found it in the residue left over from evaporating components of liquid air
Fact 2. If inhaled, Xenon can cause a person’s voice to deepen. The speed of sound in xenon is slower than air, so xenon lowers the resonant frequencies of the vocal tract when inhaled. This produces a characteristic lowered voice pitch.
Fact 3. The Earth’s atmosphere is 0.0000087% Xenon or 1 part in 20 million. This noble gas is naturally found in gases emitted from mineral springs. It is commercially obtained by extraction from liquid air.
Fact 4. Xenon is an odorless, colorless, and very heavy (dense) gas. Fluorine is the only element to react with Xenon. If Xenon is exposed to fluorine gas in the presence of light for several weeks, it can form a colorless crystalline solid.
Fact 5. Xenon can potentially be used as a general anaesthetic, albeit it is expensive.
Fact 6. In nuclear energy applications, Xenon is used in bubble chambers, probes, and in other areas where a high molecular weight and inert nature is required.
Fact 7. If inhaled, the lungs mix gases very effectively and rapidly, and Xenon would be purged from the lungs within a breath or two. Xenon is rarely used in large enough quantities for it to be a concern, though the potential for danger exists any time a tank or container of Xenon is kept in an unventilated space.
Fact 8. In a gas-filled tube, Xenon emits a blue glow when the gas is exposed to an electrical discharge. This gas is widely used in light-emitting devices called Xenon flash lamps. It is also used in photographic flashes, stroboscopic lamps, and sometimes in bactericidal lamps. Xenon is also used for dermatological purposes.
Fact 9. Xenon is the fuel chosen for ion propulsion because of its high atomic weight, ease of ionization, being a liquid at near room temperatures and at high pressures. It easily converts back into a gas to fuel the engine. Its inert nature means it is environmentally friendly and less corrosive to an ion engine compared to other fuels such as mercury. Europe’s SMART-1 spacecraft utilized Xenon in its engines.
Fact 10. Xenon is not toxic, but its compounds are highly toxic because of their strong, oxidizing characteristics. The gas can be safely kept in normal, sealed glass containers at standard temperatures and pressures.