Xenon Element Facts

The chemical element xenon is classed as a noble gas and a nonmetal. It was discovered in 1898 by William Ramsay and Morris Travers.

Nasa’s Xenon Ion Drive engine.

Nasa's Xenon Ion Drive engine. Designed to propel spacecraft on deep space missions, it fires a beam of energetic xenon ions. Relatively small amounts of ions are ejected, but at very high speeds. The Deep Space 1 probe shoots ions out at 146 000 kilometers per hour (more than 88 000 mph).


Data Zone

Classification: Xenon is a noble gas and a nonmetal
Color: colorless
Atomic weight: 131.29
State: gas
Melting point: -118.8 oC, 161.3 K
Boiling point: -108.1 oC, 165 K
Electrons: 54
Protons: 54
Neutrons in most abundant isotope: 78
Electron shells: 2,8,18,18,8
Electron configuration: [Kr] 4d10 5s2 5p6
Density @ 20oC: 0.00588 g/cm3
Show more, including: Heats, Energies, Oxidation, Reactions, Compounds, Radii, Conductivities
Atomic volume: 37.3 cm3/mol
Structure: fcc: face-centered cubic
Specific heat capacity 0.158 J g-1 K-1
Heat of fusion 2.297 kJ mol-1
Heat of atomization 0 kJ mol-1
Heat of vaporization 12.636 kJ mol-1
1st ionization energy 1170.4 kJ mol-1
2nd ionization energy 2046.4 kJ mol-1
3rd ionization energy 3097.2 kJ mol-1
Electron affinity
Minimum oxidation number 0
Min. common oxidation no. 0
Maximum oxidation number 8
Max. common oxidation no. 6
Electronegativity (Pauling Scale) 2.6
Polarizability volume 4 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) XeO3 , XeO4
Hydride(s) none
Chloride(s) none
Atomic radius 108 pm
Ionic radius (1+ ion)
Ionic radius (2+ ion)
Ionic radius (3+ ion)
Ionic radius (1- ion)
Ionic radius (2- ion)
Ionic radius (3- ion)
Thermal conductivity 0.00565 W m-1 K-1
Electrical conductivity
Freezing/Melting point: -118.8 oC, 161.3 K

Discovery of Xenon

Xenon was discovered in 1898, in London, by William Ramsay and Morris Travers.

They discovered it in the residue remaining after liquid air had been fractionally distilled. Spectroscopic analysis showed the previously unseen beautiful blue lines that indicated the presence of a new element – xenon.

Travers wrote of their discovery, “krypton yellow appeared very faint, the green almost absent. Several red lines, three brilliant and equidistant, and several blue lines were seen. Is this pure krypton, at a pressure which does not bring out the yellow and green, or a new gas? Probably the latter!”

The name comes from the Greek word ‘xenos’, meaning stranger.

William Ramsay received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1904 and also discovered or codiscovered the noble gases helium, neon, argon, and krypton.


Xenon filled glass tubes in the shape of xenon’s element symbol have several thousand volts applied. This ionizes the xenon, which responds by emitting light. Photo by Pslawinski.

Appearance and Characteristics

Harmful effects:

Xenon is not considered to be toxic but many of its compounds are toxic as a result of their strong oxidizing properties.


Xenon is a rare, colorless, odorless heavy gas.

Xenon is inert towards most chemicals.

Many compounds of xenon have now been made, principally with fluorine or oxygen. Both oxides, xenon trioxide (XeO3) and xenon tetroxide (XeO4) are highly explosive.

Uses of Xenon

Xenon is used in photographic flashes, in high pressure arc lamps for motion picture projection, and in high pressure arc lamps to produce ultraviolet light.

It is used in instruments for radiation detection, e.g., neutron and X-ray counters and bubble chambers.

Xenon is used in medicine as a general anesthetic and in medical imaging.

Modern ion thrusters for space travel use inert gases – especially xenon – for propellant, so there is no risk of the explosions associated with chemical propulsion.

Abundance and Isotopes

Abundance earth’s crust: 30 parts per trillion by weight, 5 parts per trillion by moles

Abundance solar system: parts per million by weight, parts per million by moles

Cost, pure: $120 per 100g

Cost, bulk: $ per 100g

Source: Xenon is a trace gas in Earth’s atmosphere. It is obtained commercially by fractional distillation of liquid air.

Isotopes: Xenon has 36 isotopes whose half-lives are known, with mass numbers 110 to 145. Naturally occurring xenon is a mixture of nine isotopes and they are found in the percentages shown: 124Xe (0.09%), 126Xe (0.09%), 128Xe (1.9%), 129Xe (26.4%), 130Xe (4.1%), 131Xe (21.2%), 132Xe (26.9%), 134Xe (10.4%) and 136Xe (8.9%).

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  1. Is it naturally occurring on earth?

    • Yes, it’s part of the air we breathe. There’s not much of it compared with nitrogen and oxygen: just 0.000009 percent of air’s volume is xenon.

      If you drained all the water from an olympic sized swimming pool, you’d have a pool containing 2,500,000 liters of air. If you could capture all of the xenon in that volume of air, you would get 225 ml of xenon – enough to fill a cup.

  2. what does xenon have in common with the rest of period 5

    • Hi Emma,

      Chemically and physically, xenon has little in common with other elements in period 5. Compared with other group 5 elements, xenon does not form compounds as readily, and it’s a gas at room temperature, while all the others are solids.

      Similarities I can immediately think of are that, like iodine, xenon is a very poor electrical conductor and like tellurium and iodine, xenon is a very poor thermal conductor.

      (Usually when we talk about a period of the periodic table, we consider the trends in properties – how properties change – as we look from left to right in the table. Similar properties are more often found within element groups than periods. )

  3. Cheyenne C says:

    Okay what medicines can this element make ?