11 Interesting Facts About Neon Gas: Uses, Features & Benefits

From the cosmic confines to the heart of bustling cities, the radiant touch of neon has left an indelible impression on our world. Neon, which is derived from the greek word neos, has a vibrant glow when used in a neon sign and under electrical current – neon has become a beacon of modernity. Let’s dive deep into some dazzling facts about this captivating element.

  • Neon is abundant in space but rare on Earth, only 1 part of every 65,000 in our atmosphere is neon, and it is estimated only 1,000 tons is produced each year
  • Neon was discovered in 1898, and first harnessed for neon signage in 1902
  • Traditional neon gassed signs are only capable of glowing in a red-orange color
  • Neon is a noble gas and is very expensive to purchase
  • Neon is 3x colder than liquid nitrogen, and 40x colder than liquid helium making it useful for cryogenics
  • Due to the nature of neon gas it is able to cut through fog better than any other form of lighting – making it very useful for large boats and on airport runways

The Grand Entry of Neon

Neon is a noble gas (inert gas) which graced our World towards the end of the 19th century, in the year 1898, to be precise. Its discovery can be credited to two British scientists, Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers, at University College London. Their innovative approach involved cooling air into a liquid form, creating liquid air, and then gradually warming it to collect the gases that vaporized. This experimental endeavor resulted in the revelation of three new gases: krypton, neon, and xenon. However, it was neon, found between helium and argon, that stole the limelight.

Neon’s Stellar Connection

Our starry skies hold a cosmic secret – they are the celestial factories of neon. Neon gas is forged during the alpha process in stars when helium and oxygen undergo fusion. Yet, it mandates a star with a mass at least eight times that of our sun to give birth to neon gas. So, when you gaze at the stars, remember: you are looking at neon’s birthplace.

The Dawn of Neon Lighting

The year 1902 marked a significant milestone in the world of lighting, all thanks to a French engineer named Georges Claude. Claude, ingenious in his approach, created the first neon light tubes by passing an electric current through the leftover neon from his air liquefaction firm. His groundbreaking invention saw the light of the day at the 1910 Paris Motor Show. Although neon lighting didn’t catch on in household use, the use of neon signs quickly gained popularity in advertising of businesses due to its bright lights. Today, it’s hard to picture our cityscapes without neon’s hypnotic glow – think of Las Vegas strip with it’s vibrant glowing signs!

Where does the glow come from?

Noble gases conduct electricity – this is exploited with neon advertising signs. A sealed glass tube, with a metal electrode at each end is filled with neon (ne, chemical element). An electrical current is then passed through the electrode at one end, and the electrical current reacts with the neon creating the reddish orange glow which neon signs have made famous.

The True Colors of Neon Signs

Contrary to what the spectrum of neon signs might suggest, an authentic neon sign glows reddish-orange in color. Other colors are the handiwork of different noble gases present in the glass tubing or colored fluorescent lighting. So, remember: if it’s not reddish-orange, it’s not genuine neon.  LED neon on the other hand has far wider range of colors.

A traditional gas and glass neon sign is reddish-orange in color
Traditional gas and glass neon advertising signs are reddish-orange in color

The Many Faces of Neon

Neon’s unique characteristics lend it a versatility that finds application in a myriad of uses. From television sets and use in cooling lasers to vacuum tubes and lightning arrestors, neon is present in various aspects of our everyday lives. It’s surprising to know that an average American household contains nearly 10 liters of neon gas.

Neon’s Guiding Light in the Mist

One of neon’s most intriguing attributes is its capacity to cut through fog. Unlike other lights that can become obscured, neon stands tall. This trait proves particularly useful in airports, where neon lights assist in guiding aircraft during foggy conditions.

The High Cost of Neon

Despite its cosmic abundance, neon is a precious commodity here on Earth. Its scarcity in our atmosphere and the expenditure involved in its extraction contribute to neon being more than 55 times pricier than liquid helium.

The Hidden Hazards of Neon Gas

Neon, despite its allure, isn’t entirely innocuous. Exposure to this gas can cause frostbite, and inhaling it in excessive amounts can lead to suffocation. While the enchanting glow of neon lights can captivate us, it’s wiser to leave the handling of this element to experts.

Neon’s Role in Cryogenics

Neon has a cooling capacity three times that of liquid hydrogen and 40 times that of liquid helium. Neon has established itself as a valuable cryogenic refrigerant. In fact, neon is utilized in cryonics, a process involving the freezing of corpses in anticipation of future medical advancements capable of reviving them.

Neon gas is common in cryogenics - freezing eggs and sperm for IVF
Neon gas is common in cryogenics – freezing eggs and sperm for IVF

Neon: A Stable Element

Neon belongs to the noble gases group, sharing the stage with other noble gases being helium, krypton, xenon, and argon. These elements are renowned for their stability and unreactivity, courtesy of their complete outer electron shells. Neon, with its 10 electrons, is the second lightest among its noble gas counterparts. Neon has the name ne on the periodic table (which is it’s chemical element identifier).

Neon Gas’s Luminous Legacy

Since 1902, neon has maintained that is still one of the most important gases on Earth and in use by humans.  The vibrant glow is a symbol of progress in human society. Be it in the form of eye-catching billboard advertisements or in scientific advancements, the legacy of neon still remains.

The Future of Neon

Looking ahead, one thing is crystal clear: the journey of neon is far from finished. Its distinctive properties continue to fuel new innovations and applications. The future of neon doesn’t just lie in gas neon signs; it has evolved to LED neon signs.

At Neon By Design, we channel the vibrant, inventive, and innovative spirit of neon to our customers. Our dedication to design and our commitment to customization ensures that each of our faux neon, or LED neon signs is a unique reflection of our customers’ vision. Whether you’re aiming to make a bold statement or add a dash of retro-futuristic charm to your space, we’re here to light the way.

FAQ

  • How rare is neon gas?
    • Neon is abundant in space but rare on Earth, only 1 part of every 65,000 in our atmosphere is neon, and it is estimated only 1,000 tons is produced each year.
  • When was neon gas discovered?
    • Neon was discovered by Sir William Ramsay and Morris W. Travers in 1898.
  • When was neon first used in neon signs?
    • Neon was first harnessed for neon signage in 1902, at a French barber shop. The sign was only capable of glowing in a red-orange, as neon by itself only glows this color.
  • Why is neon gas so expensive?
    • Neon gas is ultra expensive because it is needed and wanted in many industries, and it is a rare gas in Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Why is neon used in cryogenics?
    • Neon (and liquid neon) is 3x colder than liquid nitrogen, and 40x colder than liquid helium making it useful for cryogenics.
  • Why do large shipping vessels use neon lights?
    • Due to the nature of neon it is able to cut through fog better than any other form of lighting – making it very useful for large boats and on airport runways.
  • What color are traditional neon signs?
    • Traditional neon signs are only capable of glowing in a red-orange color.
  • What are the neon uses in everyday life?
    • Neon is used in vacuum tube lighting (traditional glass and gas neon tube lights)
    • Neon is use in older television tubes (which are the older style of TV)
    • Neon is used in refrigerators in hospitals and medical facilities where the temperature is below -70c
    • 70% of all neon produced is used in manufacturing the chips used in all electronic devices (like phones, computers, cars, TV’s and everything in-between)
    • Neon used in medical and LASIK lasers as a cooling mechanism (the lasers can get extremely hot)
    • Neon is used in manufacturing facilities for cutting machines needing cooling (again, the lasers in these machines can get very hot)
  • Is neon gas ne2 or ne?
    • Neon is a noble element its atomic number is 10, and its element symbol is ne on the periodic table.
  • Is neon a toxic gas?
    • Neon (ne) is a non-toxic element, it is an inert gas.  Neon is present in the atmosphere in the air in about 18 parts per million.  If inhaled as a single breath or more, pure neon would not be toxic to humans.  However, if neon were present then it would displace oxygen, and therefore if surrounded by only pure neon, there would be no oxygen present, and as a consequence a human would not be able to survive.  An equivalent comparison is water – water is not toxic to humans, but if water is all you have around you then it is not conducive to human life (as we don’t have gills).
  • How is neon gas made?
    • Neon gas is drawn from the result of distilling liquid air in a fractional distillation process.  The neon gas is further refined and purified by using activated charcoal which removes other gases given off in the distillation process.
  • What is the melting point of neon?
    • Neon (ne on the periodic table) has a melting point of -248.6°c or -411°F and a boiling point of -246.05°C or -410°F.
  • Is neon bad for the environment?
    • Neon is already present in the atmosphere, and humans are not creating or reducing the amount of neon present – we simply harness the inert qualities of neon to our advantages – like cooling.  Neon is a non-toxic, inert gas.
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Author

Christopher is our main author, with over 10 years working with businesses and consulting online.  Christopher has a deep understanding of LED lights, LED neon flex, neon signs and how they can be best used to help business, home and event decor.

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