Neon Facts

One of the nobles, or noble gases, is the gas that makes Las Vegas shine. Neon is one of the six inert elements found in the rightmost column on the Periodic Table. Noble gases do not react well because the outermost shells of electrons orbiting around the nucleus are full. This gives them no incentive to exchange electrons with other elements. There are very few compounds that can be made from noble gases.

Neon is colorless and odorless, just like its noble gas counterparts. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Laboratory, neon can form compounds with fluorine under certain laboratory conditions. However, it is non-reactive in other circumstances.

Only the facts

  • Atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus). 10
  • The Periodic table of Elements contains an Atomic symbol: Ne
  • The average mass of an atom (atomic weight): 20.1797
  • Density: 0.000899999 grams per cubic centimeter
  • Phase at room temperature
  • Melting point: minus 415.46 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 248.59 degrees Celsius)
  • Boiling point: minus 410.94 degrees F (minus 246.08 degrees C)
  • Number of isotopes (atoms with different numbers of neutrons from the same element): 19
  • Most common isotopes: Ne-20 (90.48 percent natural abundance), Ne-22 (9.25 percent natural abundance), Ne-21 (0.27 percent natural abundance)


According to Chemicool, neon was discovered by William Ramsay (Scotland) and Morris Travers (England). Ramsay was also the first person to separate helium from argon in 1894. He deduced from the Periodic Table that there was an unknown element in between the noble gases.

Ramsay and Travers discovered neon in an argon sample. The chemists first froze the liquid air with argon, then evaporated the argon to collect the gas. According to Chemicool, they ran a high voltage through their first sample of the gas and found that it glowed brightly crimson. Ramsay called the new element neon after the Greek word Neos which means new.

How a neon sign works

Neon signs are the most popular use of gas, with a long history. In 1902, Georges Claude, a French engineer, invented neon lights. These lights produce light by using electricity to argon or neon in a sealed glass tube. According to Bill Concannon (neon-sign artist, owner of Aargon Neon in Crockett), California, neon creates blue light and neon produces the clear orange-red familiar from neon signs), Argon is what makes blue light, and neon is what makes neon.

According to the Edison Tech Center, other gases can be used to create different colors, including argon and mercury, helium, hydrogen, krypton, and xenon. Most of the lights that you see today, like those on the Las Vegas Strip, are made out of mercury and argon and are colored with phosphors.

According to the Edison Tech Center, neon lights are also called cold cathode fluorescent lamps or CCFLs. They work by placing electrodes at each end of a vacuum tube containing neon or another fluorescing gas and then subject to an alternating current. The current ionizes atoms, allowing the tube to become filled with free electrons. The visible light released by the CCFL signs is created when the ionized atoms are able to recapture their electrons and become neutral.

Current research

Neon ratios in stars

Astronomers study the neon ratios of the sun in order to better understand our star and other stars in the universe. Two 2018 studies ( Youth and Brooks et al) were published. Ari discusses the importance of neon proportions. Young says that the ratio of magnesium and neon is crucial for understanding the solar atmosphere’s ionization potentials. The ratio of oxygen and neon could be used to determine the amount of neon in our sun’s photosphere. Brooks et. al. claim that these ratios can be used to help astronomers understand the evolution and potential solar cycle of the star in the center of our solar systems.

press release article by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology states that neon is crucial to the speed of energy flowing from the nuclear fusion reactions in the sun’s core up to its surface. The size and location of the sun’s convection area directly affect the rate at which energy flows.

Because of their spectral absorption lines, many elements such as nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen can be studied directly in the sun. However, neon doesn’t have any visible spectral lines so its abundance is determined by comparing the elements. These elements are measured from the photosphere using the Young observation method or the corona during an eclipse according to the 2005 press release.

Helium-neon lasers

The cheapest helium-neon lasers are made from neon. According to the University of California Santa Barbara, neon is excited by an electric charge and emits light when they return to neutral. This is similar to neon signs. Mirrors focus the light to create a laser beam. LaserDisc players of the past used helium-neon lasers for reading discs.

Water supplies protection

Researchers reported in September 2014 that Texas and Pennsylvania drinking water wells were contaminated by methane. This was a result of poorly sealed wells rather than the controversial hydraulic fracturing (also known as “fracking”). In this process, rock is broken up to release natural gas and oil. Geochemists from the National Academy of Sciences reported that they linked noble gases such as neon or argon to the methane in natural gas to track the methane. This is because the neon and the argon are not reacting and therefore move unaffected.