Argon

Argon

Overview
Argon icon is a chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

 (noble gas
Noble gas
The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties: under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity...

es). Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

. Nearly all of this argon is radiogenic argon-40 derived from the decay of potassium-40
Potassium-40
Potassium-40 is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a very long half-life of 1.248 years, or about 39.38 seconds.Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope which undergoes all three types of beta decay. About 89.28% of the time, it decays to calcium-40 with emission of a beta particle...

 in the Earth's crust. In the universe, argon-36 is by far the most common argon isotope, being the preferred argon isotope produced by stellar nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis is the process of creating new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons . It is thought that the primordial nucleons themselves were formed from the quark–gluon plasma from the Big Bang as it cooled below two trillion degrees...

 in supernovas.

The name "argon" is derived from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word αργον meaning "lazy" or "the inactive one", a reference to the fact that the element undergoes almost no chemical reactions.
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Encyclopedia
Argon icon is a chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 represented by the symbol Ar. Argon has atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

 18 and is the third element in group 18 of the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

 (noble gas
Noble gas
The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties: under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity...

es). Argon is the third most common gas in the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, at 0.93%, making it more common than carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

. Nearly all of this argon is radiogenic argon-40 derived from the decay of potassium-40
Potassium-40
Potassium-40 is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a very long half-life of 1.248 years, or about 39.38 seconds.Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope which undergoes all three types of beta decay. About 89.28% of the time, it decays to calcium-40 with emission of a beta particle...

 in the Earth's crust. In the universe, argon-36 is by far the most common argon isotope, being the preferred argon isotope produced by stellar nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis is the process of creating new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons . It is thought that the primordial nucleons themselves were formed from the quark–gluon plasma from the Big Bang as it cooled below two trillion degrees...

 in supernovas.

The name "argon" is derived from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 word αργον meaning "lazy" or "the inactive one", a reference to the fact that the element undergoes almost no chemical reactions. The complete octet
Octet rule
The octet rule is a chemical rule of thumb that states that atoms of low The octet rule is a chemical rule of thumb that states that atoms of low The octet rule is a chemical rule of thumb that states that atoms of low (The octet rule is a chemical rule of thumb that states that atoms of low (...

 (eight electrons) in the outer atomic shell makes argon stable and resistant to bonding with other elements. Its triple point
Triple point
In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which the three phases of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium...

 temperature of 83.8058 K
Kelvin
The kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. It is one of the seven base units in the International System of Units and is assigned the unit symbol K. The Kelvin scale is an absolute, thermodynamic temperature scale using as its null point absolute zero, the temperature at which all...

 is a defining fixed point in the International Temperature Scale of 1990
International Temperature Scale of 1990
The International Temperature Scale of 1990 is an equipment calibration standard for making measurements on the Kelvin and Celsius temperature scales. ITS–90 is an approximation of the thermodynamic temperature scale that facilitates the comparability and compatibility of temperature measurements...

.

Argon is produced industrially by the fractional distillation
Fractional distillation
Fractional distillation is the separation of a mixture into its component parts, or fractions, such as in separating chemical compounds by their boiling point by heating them to a temperature at which several fractions of the compound will evaporate. It is a special type of distillation...

 of liquid air
Liquid air
Liquid air is air that has been cooled to very low temperatures so that it has condensed to a pale blue mobile liquid. To protect it from room temperature, it must be kept in a vacuum flask. Liquid air can absorb heat rapidly and revert to its gaseous state...

. Argon is mostly used as an inert shielding gas in welding and other high-temperature industrial processes where ordinarily non-reactive substances become reactive; for example, an argon atmosphere is used in graphite electric furnaces to prevent the graphite from burning. Argon gas also has uses in incandescent and fluorescent lighting, and other types of gas discharge tubes. Argon makes a distinctive blue-green gas laser.

Characteristics



Argon has approximately the same solubility
Solubility
Solubility is the property of a solid, liquid, or gaseous chemical substance called solute to dissolve in a solid, liquid, or gaseous solvent to form a homogeneous solution of the solute in the solvent. The solubility of a substance fundamentally depends on the used solvent as well as on...

 in water as oxygen gas and is 2.5 times more soluble in water than nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 gas. Argon is colorless, odorless, and nontoxic as a solid, liquid, and gas. Argon is inert under most conditions and forms no confirmed stable compounds at room temperature.

Although argon is a noble gas
Noble gas
The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties: under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity...

, it has been found to have the capability of forming some compounds. For example, the creation of argon fluorohydride
Argon fluorohydride
Argon fluorohydride is the first known compound of the chemical element argon.-Discovery:The discovery of this first argon compound is credited to a group of Finnish scientists, led by Markku Räsänen...

 (HArF), a marginally stable compound of argon with fluorine
Fluorine
Fluorine is the chemical element with atomic number 9, represented by the symbol F. It is the lightest element of the halogen column of the periodic table and has a single stable isotope, fluorine-19. At standard pressure and temperature, fluorine is a pale yellow gas composed of diatomic...

 and hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

, was reported by researchers at the University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki
The University of Helsinki is a university located in Helsinki, Finland since 1829, but was founded in the city of Turku in 1640 as The Royal Academy of Turku, at that time part of the Swedish Empire. It is the oldest and largest university in Finland with the widest range of disciplines available...

 in 2000. Although the neutral ground-state chemical compounds of argon are presently limited to HArF, argon can form clathrates with water when atoms of it are trapped in a lattice of the water molecules. Argon-containing ions and excited state complexes, such as and ArF, respectively, are known to exist. Theoretical calculations have predicted several argon compounds that should be stable, but for which no synthesis routes are currently known.

History



Argon (αργος, Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 meaning "inactive", in reference to its chemical inactivity) was suspected to be present in air by Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish FRS was a British scientist noted for his discovery of hydrogen or what he called "inflammable air". He described the density of inflammable air, which formed water on combustion, in a 1766 paper "On Factitious Airs". Antoine Lavoisier later reproduced Cavendish's experiment and...

 in 1785 but was not isolated until 1894 by Lord Rayleigh and Sir William Ramsay
William Ramsay
Sir William Ramsay was a Scottish chemist who discovered the noble gases and received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904 "in recognition of his services in the discovery of the inert gaseous elements in air" .-Early years:Ramsay was born in Glasgow on 2...

 in Scotland in an experiment in which they removed all of the oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 from a sample of clean air. They had determined that nitrogen produced from chemical compounds was one-half percent lighter than nitrogen from the atmosphere. The difference seemed insignificant, but it was important enough to attract their attention for many months. They concluded that there was another gas in the air mixed in with the nitrogen. Argon was also encountered in 1882 through independent research of H. F. Newall and W.N. Hartley. Each observed new lines in the color spectrum of air but were unable to identify the element responsible for the lines. Argon became the first member of the noble gases to be discovered. The symbol for argon is now Ar, but up until 1957 it was A.

Occurrence


Argon constitutes 0.934% by volume and 1.28% by mass of the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, and air is the primary raw material used by industry to produce purified argon products. Argon is isolated from air by fractionation
Fractionation
See also: Fractionated spacecraftFractionation is a separation process in which a certain quantity of a mixture is divided up in a number of smaller quantities in which the composition changes according to a gradient. Fractions are collected based on differences in a specific property of the...

, most commonly by cryogenic
Cryogenics
In physics, cryogenics is the study of the production of very low temperature and the behavior of materials at those temperatures. A person who studies elements under extremely cold temperature is called a cryogenicist. Rather than the relative temperature scales of Celsius and Fahrenheit,...

 fractional distillation
Fractional distillation
Fractional distillation is the separation of a mixture into its component parts, or fractions, such as in separating chemical compounds by their boiling point by heating them to a temperature at which several fractions of the compound will evaporate. It is a special type of distillation...

, a process that also produces purified nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

, oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, neon
Neon
Neon is the chemical element that has the symbol Ne and an atomic number of 10. Although a very common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth. A colorless, inert noble gas under standard conditions, neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or...

, krypton
Krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

 and xenon
Xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

.

Isotopes


The main isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

s of argon found on Earth are (99.6%), (0.34%), and (0.06%). Naturally occurring with a half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

 of 1.25 years, decays to stable (11.2%) by electron capture
Electron capture
Electron capture is a process in which a proton-rich nuclide absorbs an inner atomic electron and simultaneously emits a neutrino...

 or positron emission
Positron emission
Positron emission or beta plus decay is a type of beta decay in which a proton is converted, via the weak force, to a neutron, releasing a positron and a neutrino....

, and also to stable (88.8%) via beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

. These properties and ratios are used to determine the age of rocks
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

 by the method of K-Ar dating.

In the Earth's atmosphere, is made by cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

 activity, primarily with . In the subsurface environment, it is also produced through neutron capture
Neutron capture
Neutron capture is a kind of nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus collides with one or more neutrons and they merge to form a heavier nucleus. Since neutrons have no electric charge they can enter a nucleus more easily than positively charged protons, which are repelled...

 by or alpha emission
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

 by calcium
Calcium
Calcium is the chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It has an atomic mass of 40.078 amu. Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust...

. is created from the neutron spallation
Spallation
In general, spallation is a process in which fragments of material are ejected from a body due to impact or stress. In the context of impact mechanics it describes ejection or vaporization of material from a target during impact by a projectile...

 of as a result of subsurface nuclear explosions
Nuclear testing
Nuclear weapons tests are experiments carried out to determine the effectiveness, yield and explosive capability of nuclear weapons. Throughout the twentieth century, most nations that have developed nuclear weapons have tested them...

. It has a half-life of 35 days.

Argon is notable in that its isotopic composition varies greatly between different locations in the solar system
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

. Where the major source of argon is the decay of
Potassium-40
Potassium-40 is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a very long half-life of 1.248 years, or about 39.38 seconds.Potassium-40 is a rare example of an isotope which undergoes all three types of beta decay. About 89.28% of the time, it decays to calcium-40 with emission of a beta particle...

 in rocks, will be the dominant isotope, as it is on earth. Argon produced directly by stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

, in contrast, is dominated by the alpha process nuclide, . Correspondingly, solar argon contains 84.6% based on solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 measurements.

The predominance of radiogenic  is responsible for the fact that the standard atomic weight of terrestrial argon is greater than that of the next element, potassium
Potassium
Potassium is the chemical element with the symbol K and atomic number 19. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and is very reactive with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the hydrogen emitted in the reaction.Potassium and sodium are...

. This was puzzling at the time when argon was discovered, since Mendeleev
Dmitri Mendeleev
Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev , was a Russian chemist and inventor. He is credited as being the creator of the first version of the periodic table of elements...

 had placed the elements in his periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

 in order of atomic weight, although the inertness of argon implies that it must be placed before the reactive alkali metal potassium. Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley
Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley was an English physicist. Moseley's outstanding contribution to the science of physics was the justification from physical laws of the previous empirical and chemical concept of the atomic number. This stemmed from his development of Moseley's law in X-ray spectra...

 later solved this problem by showing that the periodic table is actually arranged in order of atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

. (See History of the periodic table
History of the periodic table
The history of the periodic table reflects over a century of growth in the understanding of chemical properties, and culminates with the publication of the first actual periodic table by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869...

).

The much greater atmospheric abundance of argon relative to the other noble gases is also due to the presence of radiogenic . Primordial
Primordial nuclide
In geochemistry and geonuclear physics, primordial nuclides or primordial isotopes are nuclides found on the earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Only 288 such nuclides are known...

  has an abundance of only 31.5 ppmv (= 9340 ppmv x 0.337%), comparable to that of neon (18.18 ppmv).

The Martian atmosphere
Atmosphere of Mars
The atmosphere of Mars is relatively thin and is composed mostly of carbon dioxide . There has been interest in studying its composition since the detection of trace amounts of methane, which may indicate the presence of life on Mars, but may also be produced by a geochemical process, volcanic or...

 contains 1.6% of and 5 ppm
Parts-per notation
In science and engineering, the parts-per notation is a set of pseudo units to describe small values of miscellaneous dimensionless quantities, e.g. mole fraction or mass fraction. Since these fractions are quantity-per-quantity measures, they are pure numbers with no associated units of measurement...

 of . The Mariner
Mariner program
The Mariner program was a program conducted by the American space agency NASA that launched a series of robotic interplanetary probes designed to investigate Mars, Venus and Mercury from 1963 to 1973...

 space probe fly-by of the planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

 in 1973 found that Mercury has a very thin atmosphere with 70% argon, believed to result from releases of the gas as a decay product from radioactive materials on the planet. In 2005, the Huygens probe also discovered the presence of on Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

, the largest moon of Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

.

Compounds



Argon’s complete octet of electrons indicates full s and p subshells. This full outer energy level makes argon very stable and extremely resistant to bonding with other elements. Before 1962, argon and the other noble gases were considered to be chemically inert and unable to form compounds; however, compounds of the heavier noble gases have since been synthesized. In August 2000, the first argon compounds were formed by researchers at the University of Helsinki
University of Helsinki
The University of Helsinki is a university located in Helsinki, Finland since 1829, but was founded in the city of Turku in 1640 as The Royal Academy of Turku, at that time part of the Swedish Empire. It is the oldest and largest university in Finland with the widest range of disciplines available...

. By shining ultraviolet light onto frozen argon containing a small amount of hydrogen fluoride
Hydrogen fluoride
Hydrogen fluoride is a chemical compound with the formula HF. This colorless gas is the principal industrial source of fluorine, often in the aqueous form as hydrofluoric acid, and thus is the precursor to many important compounds including pharmaceuticals and polymers . HF is widely used in the...

, argon fluorohydride
Argon fluorohydride
Argon fluorohydride is the first known compound of the chemical element argon.-Discovery:The discovery of this first argon compound is credited to a group of Finnish scientists, led by Markku Räsänen...

 (HArF) was formed. It is stable up to 40 kelvin
Kelvin
The kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. It is one of the seven base units in the International System of Units and is assigned the unit symbol K. The Kelvin scale is an absolute, thermodynamic temperature scale using as its null point absolute zero, the temperature at which all...

 (−233 °C). The metastable dication was also observed.

Industrial


Argon is produced industrially by the fractional distillation
Fractional distillation
Fractional distillation is the separation of a mixture into its component parts, or fractions, such as in separating chemical compounds by their boiling point by heating them to a temperature at which several fractions of the compound will evaporate. It is a special type of distillation...

 of liquid air
Liquid air
Liquid air is air that has been cooled to very low temperatures so that it has condensed to a pale blue mobile liquid. To protect it from room temperature, it must be kept in a vacuum flask. Liquid air can absorb heat rapidly and revert to its gaseous state...

 in a cryogenic air separation
Air separation
An air separation plant separates atmospheric air into its primary components, typically nitrogen and oxygen sometimes also argon and rarely other inert gases. There are various technologies that are used for the separation process, the most common is via cryogenic distillation. This process was...

 unit; a process that separates liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen is nitrogen in a liquid state at a very low temperature. It is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquid air. Liquid nitrogen is a colourless clear liquid with density of 0.807 g/mL at its boiling point and a dielectric constant of 1.4...

, which boils at 77.3 K, from argon, which boils at 87.3 K and liquid oxygen
Liquid oxygen
Liquid oxygen — abbreviated LOx, LOX or Lox in the aerospace, submarine and gas industries — is one of the physical forms of elemental oxygen.-Physical properties:...

, which boils at 90.2 K. About 700,000 tonne
Tonne
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

s of argon are produced worldwide every year.

In radioactive decays


40Ar
Isotopes of argon
Argon has 24 known isotopes, from 30Ar to 53Ar and 1 isomer , three of which are stable, 36Ar, 38Ar, and 40Ar. On Earth, 40Ar makes up 99.6% of natural argon. The longest-lived radioactive isotopes are 39Ar with a half-life of 269 years, 42Ar with a half-life of 32.9 years, and 37Ar with a...

, the most abundant isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 of argon, is produced by the decay of 40K
Potassium
Potassium is the chemical element with the symbol K and atomic number 19. Elemental potassium is a soft silvery-white alkali metal that oxidizes rapidly in air and is very reactive with water, generating sufficient heat to ignite the hydrogen emitted in the reaction.Potassium and sodium are...

 with a half-life of 1.25 years by electron capture
Electron capture
Electron capture is a process in which a proton-rich nuclide absorbs an inner atomic electron and simultaneously emits a neutrino...

 or positron emission
Positron emission
Positron emission or beta plus decay is a type of beta decay in which a proton is converted, via the weak force, to a neutron, releasing a positron and a neutrino....

. Because of this, it is used in potassium-argon dating
Potassium-argon dating
Potassium–argon dating or K–Ar dating is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium into argon . Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals,...

 to determine the age of rocks.

Applications



There are several different reasons argon is used in particular applications:
  • An inert
    Inert
    -Chemistry:In chemistry, the term inert is used to describe a substance that is not chemically reactive.The noble gases were previously known as inert gases because of their perceived lack of participation in any chemical reactions...

     gas is needed. In particular, argon is the cheapest alternative when nitrogen
    Nitrogen
    Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

     is not sufficiently inert.
  • Low thermal conductivity
    Thermal conductivity
    In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

     is required.
  • The electronic properties (ionization and/or the emission spectrum) are necessary.


Other noble gas
Noble gas
The noble gases are a group of chemical elements with very similar properties: under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases, with very low chemical reactivity...

es would probably work as well in most of these applications, but argon is by far the cheapest. Argon is inexpensive since it is a byproduct of the production of liquid oxygen
Liquid oxygen
Liquid oxygen — abbreviated LOx, LOX or Lox in the aerospace, submarine and gas industries — is one of the physical forms of elemental oxygen.-Physical properties:...

 and liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen
Liquid nitrogen is nitrogen in a liquid state at a very low temperature. It is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquid air. Liquid nitrogen is a colourless clear liquid with density of 0.807 g/mL at its boiling point and a dielectric constant of 1.4...

 from a cryogenic air separation
Air separation
An air separation plant separates atmospheric air into its primary components, typically nitrogen and oxygen sometimes also argon and rarely other inert gases. There are various technologies that are used for the separation process, the most common is via cryogenic distillation. This process was...

 unit, both of which are used on a large industrial scale. The other noble gases (except helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

) are produced this way as well, but argon is the most plentiful since it has the highest concentration in the atmosphere. The bulk of argon applications arise simply because it is inert and relatively cheap.

Industrial processes


Argon is used in some high-temperature industrial processes, where ordinarily non-reactive substances become reactive. For example, an argon atmosphere is used in graphite electric furnaces to prevent the graphite from burning.

For some of these processes, the presence of nitrogen or oxygen gases might cause defects within the material. Argon is used in various types of arc welding
Arc welding
Arc welding is a type of welding that uses a welding power supply to create an electric arc between an electrode and the base material to melt the metals at the welding point. They can use either direct or alternating current, and consumable or non-consumable electrodes...

 such as gas metal arc welding
Gas metal arc welding
Gas metal arc welding , sometimes referred to by its subtypes metal inert gas welding or metal active gas welding, is a semi-automatic or automatic arc welding process in which a continuous and consumable wire electrode and a shielding gas are fed through a welding gun...

 and gas tungsten arc welding
Gas tungsten arc welding
Gas tungsten arc welding , also known as tungsten inert gas welding, is an arc welding process that uses a nonconsumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld...

, as well as in the processing of titanium
Titanium
Titanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It has a low density and is a strong, lustrous, corrosion-resistant transition metal with a silver color....

 and other reactive elements. An argon atmosphere is also used for growing crystals of silicon
Silicon
Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. A tetravalent metalloid, it is less reactive than its chemical analog carbon, the nonmetal directly above it in the periodic table, but more reactive than germanium, the metalloid directly below it in the table...

 and germanium
Germanium
Germanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ge and atomic number 32. It is a lustrous, hard, grayish-white metalloid in the carbon group, chemically similar to its group neighbors tin and silicon. The isolated element is a semiconductor, with an appearance most similar to elemental silicon....

.
Argon is an asphyxiant
Asphyxiant gas
An asphyxiant gas is a non-toxic or minimally toxic gas which reduces or diplaces the normal oxygen concentration in breathing air. Prolonged breathing of oxygen depleted air can lead to death by asphyxiation...

 in the poultry industry, either for mass culling following disease outbreaks, or as a means of slaughter more humane than the electric bath. Argon's relatively high density causes it to remain close to the ground during gassing. Its non-reactive nature makes it suitable in a food product, and since it replaces oxygen within the dead bird, argon also enhances shelf life.

Argon is sometimes used for extinguishing fires where damage to equipment is to be avoided.

Scientific research


Argon is used, primarily in liquid form, as the target for direct dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

 searches. The interaction of a hypothetical WIMP particle with the argon nucleus produces scintillation light that is then detected by photomultiplier tubes. Two-phase detectors also use argon gas to detect the ionized electrons produced during the WIMP-nucleus scattering. As with most other liquefied noble gases, argon has a high scintillation lightyield (~ 51 photons / keV), is transparent to its own scintillation light, and is relatively easy to purify. Compared to xenon
Xenon
Xenon is a chemical element with the symbol Xe and atomic number 54. The element name is pronounced or . A colorless, heavy, odorless noble gas, xenon occurs in the Earth's atmosphere in trace amounts...

, argon is cheaper and has a distinct scintillation time profile which allows the separation of electronic recoils from nuclear recoils. On the other hand, its intrinsic gamma-ray background is larger due to contamination, unless one uses underground argon sources with a low level of radioactivity. Dark matter detectors currently operating with liquid argon include WArP, ArDM
ArDM
ArDM is a particle physics experiment based on a liquid argon detector, aiming at measuring signals from WIMPs , which probably constitute the Dark Matter in the universe...

, microCLEAN and DEAP-I.

Preservative



Argon is used to displace oxygen- and moisture-containing air in packaging material to extend the shelf-lives of the contents (argon has the European food additive code of E938). Aerial oxidation, hydrolysis, and other chemical reactions which degrade the products are retarded or prevented entirely. Bottles of high-purity chemicals and certain pharmaceutical products are available in sealed bottles or ampoules packed in argon. In wine making, argon is used to top-off barrels to avoid the aerial oxidation of ethanol
Ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

 to acetic acid
Acetic acid
Acetic acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3CO2H . It is a colourless liquid that when undiluted is also called glacial acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar , and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell...

 during the aging process.

Argon is also available in aerosol
Aerosol
Technically, an aerosol is a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in a gas. Examples are clouds, and air pollution such as smog and smoke. In general conversation, aerosol usually refers to an aerosol spray can or the output of such a can...

-type cans, which may be used to preserve compounds such as varnish
Varnish
Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss...

, polyurethane
Polyurethane
A polyurethane is any polymer composed of a chain of organic units joined by carbamate links. Polyurethane polymers are formed through step-growth polymerization, by reacting a monomer with another monomer in the presence of a catalyst.Polyurethanes are...

, paint, etc. for storage after opening.

Since 2001, the American National Archives stores important national documents such as the Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies then at war with Great Britain regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams put forth a...

 and the Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

 within argon-filled cases to retard their degradation. Using argon reduces gas leakage, compared with the helium used in the preceding five decades.

Laboratory equipment



Argon may be used as the inert gas
Inert gas
An inert gas is a non-reactive gas used during chemical synthesis, chemical analysis, or preservation of reactive materials. Inert gases are selected for specific settings for which they are functionally inert since the cost of the gas and the cost of purifying the gas are usually a consideration...

 within Schlenk line
Schlenk line
225px|thumb|Vacuum gas manifold set up: 1 inert gas in, 2 inert gas out , 3 vacuum 4 reaction line, 5 Teflon tap to gas, 6 Teflon tap to vacuum 225px|thumb| Vacuum gas manifold set up: 1 inert gas in, 2 inert gas out , 3 vacuum , 4 reaction line, 5 double oblique stopcock...

s and glovebox
Glovebox
A glovebox is a sealed container that is designed to allow one to manipulate objects where a separate atmosphere is desired. Built into the sides of the glovebox are gloves arranged in such a way that the user can place their hands into the gloves and perform tasks inside the box without breaking...

es. The use of argon over comparatively less expensive nitrogen is preferred where nitrogen may react with the experimental reagents or apparatus.

Argon may be used as the carrier gas in gas chromatography and in electrospray ionization mass spectrometry; it is the gas of choice for the plasma used in ICP
Inductively coupled plasma
An inductively coupled plasma is a type of plasma source in which the energy is supplied by electric currents which are produced by electromagnetic induction, that is, by time-varying magnetic fields.-Operation:...

 spectroscopy
Spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

. Argon is preferred for the sputter coating of specimens for scanning electron microscopy. Argon ions are also used for sputtering in microelectronics.

Medical use


Cryosurgery
Cryosurgery
Cryosurgery is the application of extreme cold to destroy abnormal or diseased tissue. The term comes from the Greek words cryo and surgery meaning "hand work" or "handiwork"....

 procedures such as cryoablation
Cryoablation
Cryoablation is a process that uses extreme cold to remove tissue .Cryoablation is used in a variety of clinical applications using hollow needles through which cooled, thermally conductive, fluids are circulated...

 use liquefied argon to destroy cancer
Cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 cells. In surgery it is used in a procedure called "argon enhanced coagulation" which is a form of argon plasma beam electrosurgery
Electrosurgery
Electrosurgery is the application of a high-frequency electric current to biological tissue as a means to cut, coagulate, desiccate, or fulgurate tissue. . Its benefits include the ability to make precise cuts with limited blood loss...

. The procedure carries a risk of producing gas embolism in the patient and has resulted in the death of one person via this type of accident. Blue argon lasers are used in surgery to weld arteries, destroy tumors, and to correct eye defects. It has also been used experimentally to replace nitrogen in the breathing or decompression mix, to speed the elimination of dissolved nitrogen from the blood. See Argox.

Lighting


Incandescent lights are filled with argon, to preserve the filaments at high temperature from oxidation. It is used for the specific way it ionizes and emits light, such as in plasma globes and calorimetry
Calorimeter (particle physics)
In particle physics, a calorimeter is an experimental apparatus that measures the energy of particles. Most particles enter the calorimeter and initiate a particle shower and the particles' energy is deposited in the calorimeter, collected, and measured. The energy may be measured in its...

 in experimental particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

. Gas-discharge lamp
Gas-discharge lamp
Gas-discharge lamps are a family of artificial light sources that generate light by sending an electrical discharge through an ionized gas, i.e. a plasma. The character of the gas discharge critically depends on the frequency or modulation of the current: see the entry on a frequency classification...

s filled with argon provide blue light. Argon is also used for the creation of blue and green laser light.

Miscellaneous uses


It is used for thermal insulation
Thermal insulation
Thermal insulation is the reduction of the effects of the various processes of heat transfer between objects in thermal contact or in range of radiative influence. Heat transfer is the transfer of thermal energy between objects of differing temperature...

 in energy efficient window
Insulated glazing
Insulated glazing also known as double glazing are double or triple glass window panes separated by an air or other gas filled space to reduce heat transfer across a part of the building envelope....

s. Argon is also used in technical scuba diving
Scuba diving
Scuba diving is a form of underwater diving in which a diver uses a scuba set to breathe underwater....

 to inflate a dry suit
Dry suit
A dry suit or drysuit provides thermal insulation or passive thermal protection to the wearer while immersed in water, and is worn by divers, boaters, water sports enthusiasts, and others who work or play in or near cold water. A dry suit normally protects the whole body except the head, hands, and...

, because it is inert and has low thermal conductivity.

Compressed argon is allowed to expand, to cool the seeker heads of the AIM-9 Sidewinder
AIM-9 Sidewinder
The AIM-9 Sidewinder is a heat-seeking, short-range, air-to-air missile carried mostly by fighter aircraft and recently, certain gunship helicopters. The missile entered service with United States Air Force in the early 1950s, and variants and upgrades remain in active service with many air forces...

 missile, and other missiles that use cooled thermal seeker heads. The gas is stored at high pressure.

Argon-39, with a half-life of 269 years, has been used for a number of applications, primarily ice core
Ice core
An ice core is a core sample that is typically removed from an ice sheet, most commonly from the polar ice caps of Antarctica, Greenland or from high mountain glaciers elsewhere. As the ice forms from the incremental build up of annual layers of snow, lower layers are older than upper, and an ice...

 and ground water dating. Also, potassium-argon dating
Potassium-argon dating
Potassium–argon dating or K–Ar dating is a radiometric dating method used in geochronology and archeology. It is based on measurement of the product of the radioactive decay of an isotope of potassium into argon . Potassium is a common element found in many materials, such as micas, clay minerals,...

 is used in dating igneous rock
Igneous rock
Igneous rock is one of the three main rock types, the others being sedimentary and metamorphic rock. Igneous rock is formed through the cooling and solidification of magma or lava...

s.

Safety


Although argon is non-toxic, it does not satisfy the body's need for oxygen and is thus an asphyxiant
Asphyxiant gas
An asphyxiant gas is a non-toxic or minimally toxic gas which reduces or diplaces the normal oxygen concentration in breathing air. Prolonged breathing of oxygen depleted air can lead to death by asphyxiation...

. Argon is 25% more dense
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

 than air and is considered highly dangerous in closed areas. It is also difficult to detect because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. In confined spaces, it is known to result in death due to asphyxia
Asphyxia
Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from being unable to breathe normally. An example of asphyxia is choking. Asphyxia causes generalized hypoxia, which primarily affects the tissues and organs...

tion. A 1994 incident in which a man was asphyxiated after entering an argon filled section of oil pipe under construction in Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 highlights the dangers of argon tank leakage in confined spaces, and emphasizes the need for proper use, storage and handling.

See also



Further reading

  • Emsley, J., Nature’s Building Blocks; Oxford University Press: Oxford, NY, 2001; pp. 35–39.
  • Brown, T. L.; Bursten, B. E.; LeMay, H. E., In Chemistry: The Central Science, 10th ed.; Challice, J.; .; Folchetti, N. et al.; Eds.; Pearson Education, Inc.: Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2006; pp. 276 and 289.
  • Triple point temperature: 83.8058 K –