Several gases that make up the chemical series known as group 18 within the Periodic Table of the Elements are commonly known by the term "noble gases" due to their uncommon level of stability. These noble gases share three common physical characteristics and several chemical commonalities unique to this group of gases.
Once known as "rare gases," six elements within group 18 of the periodic table are known as noble gases: helium, neon, argon, krypton, xenon and radon. The use of the word "noble" stems from the fact that all six are extremely nonreactive with other chemicals and thus "noble," above reacting with other elements. These six were also previously called "inert gases," but that description isn't completely accurate because some of these gases can actually participate in chemical reactions. Their extremely stability, makes a chemical reaction unlikely and only possible under very specific circumstances, however.
Three Physical Characteristics
Noble gases share three primary physical characteristics: they are odorless, tasteless and colorless. Noble gases are also characterized by the fact that they remain in the form of a gas while at room temperature, although they will convert to a liquid state at certain temperatures. In addition, noble gases are insoluble in water. In addition to these physical characteristics, a number of chemical characteristics remain consistent among all noble gases.
From a chemical perspective, noble gases are highly nonreactive. The outer shell of each noble gas consists of valence electrons that are "full," meaning they have little tendency to gain or lose electrons, which would cause them to participate in a chemical reaction. Moreover, melting and boiling points for each noble gas are close together, differing by less than 18 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius). As a result, noble gases will only remain in a liquid state within a small range of temperatures.
The six noble gases each have common uses in a variety of areas. Helium's low density and stability has led to its use in lighter-than-air balloons. Neon is commonly used in glass-tube neon signs. Argon, on the other hand, is used in ordinary lightbulbs, and also in welding to provide an inert atmosphere. Krypton and xenon have applications in commercial lighting; both are used in flashing stroboscopic lights used on airport runways. Radon, due to its radioactivity, is used in medical treatments such as radiotherapy.
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