What Are the Physical Properties of Xenon?

physical-properties-xenon Credit: AFP/Getty Images/AFP/Getty Images

Xenon is the heaviest of the noble gases with a density of 5.84 grams per liter. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless. This nontoxic gas, while considered inert, forms compounds with oxygen and fluorine that are all toxic due to their strong oxidation potential. Exciting the gas in a vacuum tube using electricity causes a blue glow.

Xenon gas liquefies below minus 107 degrees Celsius and freezes below minus 111 degrees Celsius. Naturally occurring, the gas includes a mixture of nine stable isotopes. In addition, scientists know of another 20 short-lived radioisotopes. During neutron fission of uranium, nuclear reactors produce a mixture of stable and unstable xenon isotopes. Operators must remove xenon-135 from the reactor, as it absorbs neutrons and poisons the reaction.

Xenon is extremely rare, existing in the Earth's atmosphere at a concentration of one part in 20 million. Manufacturers produce xenon through fractionally distilling liquid air. They use the gas in producing strobe lights, movie production lamps and in lamps produced to kill bacteria. It is useful in applications requiring a high molecular weight gas. Analytical chemists use xenon compounds as oxidizing agents. Instruments for radiation detection often depend on xenon gas. Medical uses include the potential as an anesthesia.