Gold Element Facts

The chemical element gold is classed as a transition metal. It has been known since ancient times. Its discoverer and discovery date are unknown.

Two faces of gold.

Two faces of gold: Nasa message to aliens carried by the Voyager spacecraft and, on the right, a pirate treasure coin.


Data Zone

Classification: Gold is a transition metal
Color: golden yellow
Atomic weight: 196.9665
State: solid
Melting point: 1064.18 oC, 1337.33 K
Boiling point: 2850 oC, 3123 K
Electrons: 79
Protons: 79
Neutrons in most abundant isotope: 118
Electron shells: 2,8,18,32,18,1
Electron configuration: [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s1
Density @ 20oC: 19.32 g/cm3
Show more, including: Heats, Energies, Oxidation, Reactions, Compounds, Radii, Conductivities
Atomic volume: 10.2 cm3/mol
Structure: fcc: face-centered cubic
Hardness: 2.5 mohs
Specific heat capacity 0.128 J g-1 K-1
Heat of fusion 12.550 kJ mol-1
Heat of atomization 368 kJ mol-1
Heat of vaporization 334.40 kJ mol-1
1st ionization energy 890.1 kJ mol-1
2nd ionization energy 1980 kJ mol-1
3rd ionization energy
Electron affinity 222.752 kJ mol-1
Minimum oxidation number -1
Min. common oxidation no. 0
Maximum oxidation number 5
Max. common oxidation no. 3
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale) 2.54
Polarizability volume 6.1 Å3
Reaction with air none
Reaction with 15 M HNO3 none
Reaction with 6 M HCl none
Reaction with 6 M NaOH none
Oxide(s) Au2O3
Hydride(s) none
Chloride(s) AuCl2, [AuCl3]2
Atomic radius 135 pm
Ionic radius (1+ ion) 151 pm
Ionic radius (2+ ion)
Ionic radius (3+ ion) 99 pm
Ionic radius (1- ion)
Ionic radius (2- ion)
Ionic radius (3- ion)
Thermal conductivity 318 W m-1 K-1
Electrical conductivity 48.8 x 106 S m-1
Freezing/Melting point: 1064.18 oC, 1337.33 K

Varna Gold

Gold artifacts from 4500-4000 BC found in Varna, Bulgaria.
Image: Yelkrokoyade

Tutankhamun's Mask

The famous mask of Tutankhamun, made over 3300 years ago in 1323 BC.
Ancient Egyptians had been working with gold for at least 1700 years before this mask was made.

King Croesus Minted Coint

Front and back of a coin from King Croesus’s mint – one of the first coins minted in human history, over 2500 years ago.
Croesus’s refinery produced gold of consistent quality, allowing gold coins of equal value to be minted.
Image: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.

Discovery of Gold

Dr. Doug Stewart

Humans have known gold and treasured it since prehistoric times.

Who discovered gold? We do not know, it was discovered before there were written records. We know there is a good chance the discoverer found it in a river bed.

Gold is usually associated with rocks such as quartz and pyrites. As these rocks undergo weathering or erosion by water, the gold can be washed into rivers allowing people to find it easily.

Currently we can trace our use of gold back to at least 6200 years ago. A variety of objects made of gold have been found in Bulgaria from 4500-4000 BC. (1) (shown left).

Gold artifacts dated to 5000 years ago have been found in Egyptian tombs; gold was already being beaten into sheets, foil and wire in Egypt at this time. (2) The Egyptian word for gold was ‘nub’ and is related to Nubia, the land south of Egypt where much of Egypt’s gold was obtained.

Gold in the native state (i.e. found naturally) is usually mixed with other metals, such as silver. Its purity can be increased by depletion guilding or refining – a significant step forward in technology. (3)

Gold of 98% purity has been found in Nahal Qunah in the ancient kingdom of Israel, dating from about 6000 years ago. (4), (5)

Analyses of gold from ancient Egypt indicates refining began there about 2500 years ago. (6)

The legendary wealth of King Croesus of Lydia (now in modern Turkey) came from refining gold found in several local rivers. (7), (8)

Gold became the basis of money in many ancient civilizations, and even today most countries maintain large reserves of gold for financial credibility. Most modern currencies, however, are not tied to gold as they were in the days of the Gold Standard, described by economist John Maynard Keynes as “a barbarous relic.” (9)

In ancient times people viewed gold as the perfect substance. Alchemists began a relentless but fruitless pursuit spanning many centuries, trying to discover how to transform other metals into gold.

Although alchemy failed in its goal, the experimental techniques alchemists developed were important to the early chemists.

Alchemists believed gold was made of a mixture of perfectly purified mercury and sulfur, mixed in the perfect proportions. (10)

Constant failure to produce gold simply meant substances were not yet pure enough, or the perfect proportions had not yet been found.

Alchemist’s concepts of mercury and sulfur were different from ours; while they did include the substances we call mercury and sulfur, they also encompassed other metals and substances.

The word ‘gold’ is an Anglo-Saxon word, similar to the Anglo-Saxon word for yellow, ‘geolo.’ It is believed to have come from the Sanskrit ‘jval’ meaning ‘to shine.’ (10)

The chemical symbol Au comes from ‘aurum’ the Latin word for gold. (Aurora was goddess of dawn or the morning glow.) (11)

Interesting Facts about Gold
Visit Chemicool’s cool, new, gold facts page

Molten gold is formed into gold bars and cooled.


Crystalline gold, grown in the laboratory. (Photo: Alchemist-hp)


Nuggets of native gold.


Appearance and Characteristics

Harmful effects:

Gold is considered to be non-toxic.


Gold is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.

It is a soft, yellow, metal with a beautiful lustrous sheen. It is the most malleable and ductile of all the elements and a single gram can be beaten into a sheet one square meter sheet of gold leaf.

Gold has a very high density, 19.32 g/cm3. (A tennis ball sized sphere of gold would weigh about 5.7 pounds (2.6 kilograms). Gold is not the densest natural element, however. That honor belongs to osmium, followed very closely by iridium. Tennis ball sized spheres of these elements would each weigh about 6.8 pounds (3.1 kilograms).

Gold is unaffected by air, water, alkalis and all acids except aqua regia (a mixture of hydrochloric acid and nitric acid) which can dissolve gold. Gold does react with halogens. It will, for example, react very slowly with chlorine gas at room temperature to form gold chloride, AuCl3. If gold chloride is heated gently, it will decompose to release the pure elements again.

Unusually for a metal, gold can also form compounds (aurides) in which its oxidation number is negative (-1). For example, gold can combine with cesium to form cesium auride, CsAu, and rubidium to form rubidium auride, RbAu. These are ionic compounds with non-metallic properties in which the Cs or Rb ions are charged +1 while the Au atoms are charged 1-.

Uses of Gold

Gold is widely used in jewelry and coinage. It is also used in dental work as crowns, as gold plating for decoration and as gold thread in embroidery work. The gold content in alloys is usually measured in carats (k), with pure gold defined as 24k.

Many satellites carry gold-coated mylar sheets as a solar heat shield because gold is an excellent reflector of radiation and unreactive. Similarly astronaut’s helmet visors are coated with a thin layer of gold to guard against dangerous effects of solar radiation.

Gold is used widely in microelectronic circuits to ensure reliable, corrosion-resistant and static-free performance.

The isotope 198Au, with a half-life of 2.7 days, is used for treating cancers – especially of the bladder, cervix, and prostate.

Gold flake is added to some gourmet sweets and drinks.

Chloroauric acid (HAuCl4) is used in photography for toning the silver image.

Abundance and Isotopes

Abundance earth’s crust: 4 parts per billion by weight, 0.4 parts per billion by moles

Abundance solar system: 1 part per billion by weight, 10 parts per trillion by moles

Cost, pure: $5540 per 100g

Cost, bulk: $3800 per 100g

Source: Gold is found underground and in rivers. The river deposits arise when gold that was rock-bound is released by erosion of the surrounding rock by running water.

Gold is usually found as a metal alloyed to some degree with silver or sometimes with mercury as an amalgam. Gold nuggets found on Earth range from sizeable nuggets through tiny grains in alluvial (river) deposits to microscopic pieces in rocks.

Commercially, gold is purified by cyaniding, amalgamating with mercury, or smelting processes. Further refining, which produces nearly pure gold, is usually by electrolysis.

Isotopes: Gold has 35 isotopes whose half-lives are known, with mass numbers 171 to 205. Naturally occurring gold consists of its one stable isotope, 197Au.


1. Varna Museum of Archeology – The Middle Eneolithic Age
2. T.G.H. James, The British Museum, Gold Technology in Ancient Egypt: Mastery of Metal Working Methods., 1972, Gold Bulletin V, p42.
3. S. La Niece, Depletion Guilding from Third Millennium BC UR., Iraq, 1995, Vol. 57, p41-47.
5. Encyclopedia of Prehistory: South and Southwest Asia, Volume 8 By Peter Neal Peregrine, Melvin Ember, Human Relations Area Files, inc
6. A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries., 1948, p263, St Ann’s Press.
7. John N. Wilford, Ancient King’s Legendary Gold., 2000.
8. Cindy L. Nimchuk, University of Toronto, Bryn Mawr Classical Review., 2001.
9. Personal Wealth, Reparations, Probability and the Gold Standard, John Maynard Keynes – 1919 to 1926.
10. Eric. J. Holmyard, Makers of Chemistry., 1931, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. p163.
11. Vivi Ringnes, Origin of the Names of Chemical Elements, J. Chem. Educ., 1989, 66 (9), p731.
12. USGS Minerals 2012 (pdf download)
13. Facts

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  1. babygirl99 says:

    Very useful!!!!!

  2. Helped me alot for science class!!

  3. pretty helpful but i need the number of protons, electrons, and neutrons.. can anyone help please???

    • the atomic number is the electrons and protons, to get neutrons subtract the atomic number from the atomic mass

  4. gold is awesome i love searching for facts about gold !!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  5. This was very helpful for chemistry class!

  6. Very very very helpful…..I would recommend this site to all of my friends for their science projects!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. This helped alot for my Science project!

  8. thanks for the cool facts but i need the atomic radius 🙁

    • Hi Adalaine, I’m sorry you couldn’t find the atomic radius. It’s 135 pm. You can get this in the Data Zone scroll to the top left of the page and click:

      “Show more, including: Heats, Energies, Oxidation, Reactions, Compounds, Radii, Conductivities”

  9. Very helpful for chemistry class. The gold is beautiful

  10. Helped a lot for my school science project! Much thanks! xx

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