Origin of name: Gr. xenon, stranger
Discovered by Ramsay and Travers in 1898 in the residue left after evaporating liquid air components.
Xenon is a member of the so-called noble or “inert” gases. It is present in the atmosphere to the extent of about one part in twenty million. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere to the extent of 0.08 ppm. The element is found in the gases evolved from certain mineral springs, and is commercially obtained by extraction from liquid air. Natural xenon is composed of nine stable isotopes. In addition to these, thirty five unstable isotopes and isomers have been characterized.
Before 1962, it had generally been assumed that xenon and other noble gases were unable to form compounds. However, it is now known that xenon, as well as other members of the zero valence elements, do form compounds. Among the compounds of xenon now reported are xenon hydrate, sodium perxenate, xenon deuterate, difluoride, tetrafluoride, hexafluoride, and XePtF6 and XeRhF6. Xenon trioxide, which is highly explosive, has been prepared.
More than 80 xenon compounds have been made with xenon chemically bonded to fluorine and oxygen. Some xenon compounds are colored. Metallic xenon has been produced, using several hundred kilobars of pressure. Xenon in a vacuum tube produces a beautiful blue glow when excited by an electrical discharge. The gas is used in making electron tubes, stroboscopic lamps, bactericidal lamps, and lamps used to excite ruby lasers for generating coherent light. Xenon is used in the atomic energy field in bubble chambers, probes, and other applications where its high molecular weight is of value. The perxenates are used in analytical chemistry as oxidizing agents. 133Xe and 135Xe are produced by neutron irradiation in air cooled nuclear reactors. 133Xe has useful applications as a radioisotope.
The element is available in sealed glass containers for about $20/L of gas at standard pressure.
Xenon is not toxic, but its compounds are highly toxic because of their strong oxidizing characteristics.