What is Mercury? - Chemical Element
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What is Mercury?

Diagram of a mercury atom
Thanks to Open Door for this image

Along with gold, lead, and uranium, mercury is one of the heavier kinds of atoms. Every atom of mercury has 80 protons and 121 neutrons in its nucleus.

Like those atoms, all mercury atoms are made inside older stars that have become supernovas. Mercury is unusual because while most of these heavy atoms are solid at room temperature, the way you think of metal as a solid chunk of something, mercury is instead a liquid at room temperature. This is because mercury's outside electrons don't hold on to other mercury atoms very tightly or very well.

On Earth, mercury is pretty rare. It usually combines with sulphur molecules to make a rock called cinnabar. We get mercury by crushing the cinnabar and roasting it in ovens.

Balls of mercury

Because mercury is liquid at room temperature, but expands slowly as it is heated, people use it inside thermometers to measure heat.

Learn by doing - Mercury Thermometers

Bibliography and further reading:

The planet Mercury
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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