Samarium is a rare earth metal, with a bright silver luster, that is reasonably stable in air; it ignites in air at 150 °C. Even with long-term storage under mineral oil, samarium is gradually oxidized, with a grayish-yellow powder of the oxide-hydroxide being formed. The metallic appearance of a sample can be preserved by sealing it under an inert gas such as argon. Three crystal modifications of the metal also exist, with transformations at 734 and 922 °C.
The samarskite mineral was named after Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets, the Chief of Staff (Colonel) of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers in 1845–1861. The name of the element is derived from the name of the mineral, and thus traces back to the name Samarsky-Bykhovets. In this sense samarium was the first chemical element to be named after a living person.
Prior to the advent of ion-exchange separation technology in the 1950s, samarium had no commercial uses in pure form. However, a by-product of the fractional crystallization purification of neodymium was a mixture of samarium and gadolinium that acquired the name of "Lindsay Mix" after the company that made it. This material is thought to have been used for nuclear control rods in some of the early nuclear reactors. Nowadays, a similar commodity product goes under the name of "Samarium-Europium-Gadolinium" concentrate (or SEG concentrate). This is prepared by solvent extraction from the mixed lanthanides extracted from bastnäsite (or monazite). Since the heavier lanthanides have the greater affinity for the solvent used, they are easily extracted from the bulk using relatively small proportions of solvent. Not all rare earth producers who process bastnäsite do so on large enough scale to continue onward with the separation of the components of SEG, which typically makes up only one or two percent of the original ore. Such producers will therefore be making SEG with a view to marketing it to the specialized processors. In this manner, the valuable europium content of the ore is rescued for use in phosphor manufacture. Samarium purification follows the removal of the europium. Currently, being in oversupply, samarium oxide is less expensive on a commercial scale than its relative abundance in the ore might suggest.
See also Samarium compounds.
151Sm has a halflife of 90 years, and 145Sm has a halflife of 340 days. All of the remaining radioisotopes have half-lives that are less than 2 days, and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 48 seconds. This element also has 5 meta states with the most stable being 141mSm (t½ 22.6 minutes), 143m1Sm (t½ 66 seconds) and 139mSm (t½ 10.7 seconds).
The primary decay mode before the most abundant stable isotope, 152Sm, is electron capture, and the primary mode after is beta minus decay. The primary decay products before 152Sm are element Pm (promethium) isotopes, and the primary products after are element Eu (europium) isotopes.
Natural Samarium has an activity of 128 Bq/g.