What is Mercury? - Chemical Element
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What is Mercury?

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.

Mercury
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
Thermometers
Chemistry
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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