Any of the seven chemical elements that make up the rightmost group of the periodic table as usually arranged: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon, radon, and element 118. All are colourless, odourless, and nonflammable and, except for element 118, occur in tiny amounts in the atmosphere (though helium is the most plentiful element in the universe after hydrogen). Their stable electronic configurations, with no unpaired electrons to share, make them extremely unreactive—hence “noble” (i.e., aloof) or inert—though krypton, xenon, and radon, with outer electrons held less firmly, can form compounds (mainly with fluorine). These gases absorb and give off electromagnetic radiation in a much less complex way than other substances, a property exploited in their use in fluorescent lighting devices and discharge lamps. They glow with a characteristic colour when confined in a transparent container at low pressure with an electric current passing through it. Their very low boiling and melting points make them useful as refrigerants for low-temperature research (see cryogenics).
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Originally, leadership by a small privileged class or a minority thought to be best qualified to lead. Plato and Aristotle considered aristocrats to be those who are morally and intellectually superior, and therefore fit to govern in the interests of the people. The term has come to mean the upper layer of a stratified group. Most aristocracies have been hereditary, and many European societies stratified their aristocratic classes by formally titling their members, thereby making the term roughly synonymous with nobility. Seealso oligarchy.
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