Mercury is essentially a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum (from Greek “hydr-” water and “argyros” silver). Mercury is used in thermometers, barometers, manometers, sphygmomanometers, float valves, mercury switches, fluorescent lamps and other devices. Continue reading for more.
5. Mercury vs. Aluminum
Mercury is a heavy, silvery-white metal. As compared to other metals, it is a poor conductor of heat, but a fair conductor of electricity. Mercury has an exceptionally low melting and boiling temperatures for a d-block metal.
Mercury does not react with most acids, such as dilute sulfuric acid, although oxidizing acids such as concentrated sulfuric acid and nitric acid or aqua regia dissolve it to give sulfate, nitrate, and chloride salts. Like silver, mercury reacts with atmospheric hydrogen sulfide. Mercury even reacts with solid sulfur flakes, which are used in mercury spill kits to absorb mercury vapors.
Mercury dissolves many other metals such as gold and silver to form amalgams. Iron is an exception and iron flasks have been traditionally used to trade mercury. Several other first row transition metals with the exception of manganese, copper and zinc are reluctant to form amalgams.
Mercury readily combines with aluminium to form a mercury-aluminium amalgam when the two pure metals come into contact. Since the amalgam destroys the aluminium oxide layer which protects metallic aluminium from oxidizing in-depth (as in iron rusting), even small amounts of mercury can seriously corrode aluminium.
In China and Tibet, mercury use was thought to prolong life, heal fractures, and maintain generally good health, although it is now known that exposure to mercury leads to serious adverse health effects. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di – allegedly buried in a tomb that contained rivers of flowing mercury on a model of the land he ruled, representative of the rivers of China – was killed by drinking a mercury and powdered jade mixture formulated by Qin alchemists (causing liver failure, mercury poisoning, and brain death) who intended to give him eternal life.
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Mercury is an extremely rare element in the Earth’s crust, having an average crustal abundance by mass of only 0.08 parts per million (ppm). However, because it does not blend geochemically with those elements that constitute the majority of the crustal mass, mercury ores can be extraordinarily concentrated considering the element’s abundance in ordinary rock.
The richest mercury ores contain up to 2.5% mercury by mass, and even the leanest concentrated deposits are at least 0.1% mercury (12,000 times average crustal abundance). It is found either as a native metal (rare) or in cinnabar, corderoite, livingstonite and other minerals, with cinnabar (HgS) being the most common ore. Mercury ores usually occur in very young orogenic belts where rock of high density are forced to the crust of the Earth, often in hot springs or other volcanic region.