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What is Argon?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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Argon is a gaseous chemical element that makes up almost 1% of the Earth's atmosphere. Among the noble gases, it is generally considered to be the most abundant, and it is sometimes used to replace other noble gases in situations where an inert gas in needed. The relatively nonreactive gas has a number of industrial uses, and its isotopes are also used in radiocarbon dating for very old artifacts. Consumers may interact with this gas now and then, primarily indirectly.

Like other noble gases, such as helium, neon, and krypton, argon was initially believed to be totally inert. In fact, it will react in certain situations, forming some compounds, but it is remarkably stable otherwise. This gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and in its pure form, it is nontoxic, although the gas can act as an asphyxiant if it displaces the oxygen in a room. On the periodic table of elements, argon is identified by the symbol Ar, and the gas has an atomic number of 18.

This gas was discovered in 1894 by Sir William Ramsay and Lord Rayleigh. The men had earlier noticed that a sample of nitrogen from the air appeared to be heavier than nitrogen extracted from other sources, and they theorized that the nitrogen might actually be mixed with other gases. Experimentation proved this theory correct, and they named the gas they discovered argon, named after the Greek argos, or “lazy one,” in a reference to the low reactivity of the gas.

Later, it was realized that the sample of air that they had given this name was actually a sample of several noble gases. Ramsay managed to extract pure argon later. He also performed research on other noble gases, confirming the findings of other scientists and making a few new discoveries of his own. In 1904, both Ramsay and Rayleigh received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on the noble gases.

Commercially, this element is extracted through the fractional distillation process, which involves cooling air until it liquefies and then heating it, forcing the separate gases to precipitate out. Argon is usually relatively cheap, since it is a byproduct of the large market for oxygen and nitrogen. It is frequently used in lighting, often in combination with other noble gases, and it is also used to create a shield for arc welding. Electronics companies also use it in their fire extinguishers, as the gas can put out a fire without damaging equipment.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon353876 — On Nov 03, 2013

@anon252703: 18 protons; 22 neutrons; 18 electrons.

By anon297648 — On Oct 16, 2012

What common compounds does Argon form?

By anon252703 — On Mar 06, 2012

How many neutrons and electrons does argon have?

By anon138682 — On Jan 02, 2011

in what field does argon belong?

By anon112516 — On Sep 20, 2010

is argon used in light bulbs? Please answer me asap!

By anon110827 — On Sep 13, 2010

Argon is used for preserving wines and in the painting industry it is used to preserve paint from the crazing effect on the surface when stored without argon. I just found this great deal at little cost to consumer answer to storing and preserving my gallon cans of expensive polyurethane substance. Stuff called "Blozygen" sold in paint spray size cans. Main ingredient? Argon gas.

By anon92254 — On Jun 27, 2010

how else is it extracted and what do you mean by a byproduct of the large market for oxygen and nitrogen?

By anon86178 — On May 24, 2010

argon is used for what, exactly?

By anon85703 — On May 21, 2010

where can you find argon?

By anon61452 — On Jan 20, 2010

I'm doing a project on argon. what is it used for?

By anon52740 — On Nov 16, 2009

I'm doing a project on adopting an element and I need to know what other element will combine with argon?

By anon51974 — On Nov 10, 2009

i'm doing a project on argon. i need information about the characteristics, where can we found it and uses in real life! but i can't find where this information is on the internet. (;_;)

By anon51257 — On Nov 04, 2009

I'm doing a project on this "Argon". If this is impossible, then i could fail my project. I need a lot of information! More than what this little description explains!

By anon48603 — On Oct 13, 2009

I am doing a project on Argon and i need to know stupid information about that i will never use in my whole life.

By anon47812 — On Oct 07, 2009

this is cool.

By milagros — On Jun 10, 2009

Argon is used in light bulbs.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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