What is Mercury? - Chemical Element
Welcome to Quatr.us Study Guides!

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
Quatr.us home

LIMITED TIME OFFER FOR TEACHERS: Using this article with your class? Show us your class page where you're using this article, and we'll send you a free subscription so all your students can use Quatr.us Study Guides with no distractions! (Not a teacher? Paid subscriptions are also available for just $16/year!)
Please help other teachers and students find us: link to this page from your class page.
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.
Cite this page
  • Author: K.E. Carr
  • Title:
  • Site Name: Quatr.us Study Guides
  • Publisher: Quatr.us
  • Date Published:
Did you find what you needed? Ask your teacher to link to this page so other people can use it too! Send it in and win a Quatr.us "Great Page!" award!
Sign up for more free articles and special offers in Quatr.us' weekly newsletter:
We will never share your e-mail address unless you allow us to do so. View our privacy policy. Easy unsubscribe links are provided in every email.
Comment on This Article

Does your class page honor diversity, celebrate feminism, and support people of color, LBGTQ people, and people with disabilities? Let us know, and we'll send you a Diversity Banner you can proudly display!
Looking for more?
Quatr.us is loading comments...
(Comments will appear after moderation, if they are kind and helpful. Feel free to ask questions, and we'll try to answer them.)
Cite this page
  • Carr, K.E. . Quatr.us Study Guides, . Web. 23 April, 2017