1899-1910 Radon

The book of science

Tom Sharp

Paris, Montreal, Halle, LondonMarie Curie, Pierre Curie, Robert Bowie Owens, Ernest Rutherford, Friedrich Ernst Dorn, André-Louis Debierne, William Ramsay, Robert Whytlaw-Gray elements Radon


In 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie observed that radium emanated a radioactive gas. Later that year, Robert Bowie Owens and Ernest Rutherford in Montreal observed that thorium emanated a radioactive gas. Owens and Rutherford called it Thorium Emanation. In 1900, Friedrich Ernst Dorn repeated the Curies’s experiment and reported a Radium Emanation. In 1903, André-Louis Debierne observed that actinium emanated a radioactive gas, Actinium Emanation. The emanations were given different names although in 1904 William Ramsey suggested they might contain a new noble gas and in 1910, Ramsey and Robert Whytlaw-Gray isolated radon, determined its density and spectral pattern, and suggested naming it niton. Niton and the three emanations were isotopes of the radioactive noble gas radon.

Atomic number 86

Uranium and thorium, long-lived radioactive elements, were part of our Earth when it formed and continue to decay slowly in a chain of unstable elements that includes radon. Radon is the mosquito of the periodic table. It’s released by rocks and soils, it accumlates in unventillated areas, and it’s not good for you.

Bad stuff

Odorless, tasteless, invisible, radon gas permeates your playspace and seriously deteriorates your ability to play. I mean this. It lurks in your basement and it gives you lung cancer. It’s not a pretty gas. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. But it’s the product of decay, and it brings you closer to your own decay.

Radium Emanation was radon-222, also called exradio, radeon, niton, and radon. Thorium Emanation was radon-220, also called exthorio, thoreon, and thoron. Actinium Emanation was radon-219, also called exactinio, actineon, akton, and actinon.

See also in The book of science:

Readings in wikipedia:

Other readings:

  • Radon,” Elementymology & Elements Multidict, by Peter van der Krogt