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Magnesium is a chemical element; it has symbol Mg and atomic number 12. It is a shiny gray metal having a low density, low melting point and high chemical reactivity. Like the other alkaline earth metals (group 2 of the periodic table) it occurs naturally only in combination with other elements and it almost always has an oxidation state of +2. It reacts readily with air to form a thin passivation coating of magnesium oxide that inhibits further corrosion of the metal. The free metal burns with a brilliant-white light. The metal is obtained mainly by electrolysis of magnesium salts obtained from brine. It is less dense than aluminium and is used primarily as a component in strong and lightweight alloys that contain aluminium.
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|shiny grey solid
|Standard atomic weight Ar°(Mg)
|Magnesium in the periodic table
|Atomic number (Z)
|group 2 (alkaline earth metals)
|Electrons per shell
|2, 8, 2
|Phase at STP
|923 K (650 °C, 1202 °F)
|1363 K (1091 °C, 1994 °F)
|Density (at 20° C)
|when liquid (at m.p.)
|Heat of fusion
|Heat of vaporization
|Molar heat capacity
|0, +1, +2 (a strongly basic oxide)
|Pauling scale: 1.31
|empirical: 160 pm
|Van der Waals radius
|Spectral lines of magnesium
|hexagonal close-packed (hcp) (hP2)
| = 320.91 pm
c = 521.03 pm (at 20 °C)
|25.91×10−6/K (at 20 °C)
|43.9 nΩ⋅m (at 20 °C)
|Molar magnetic susceptibility
|+13.1×10−6 cm3/mol (298 K)
|Speed of sound thin rod
|4940 m/s (at r.t.) (annealed)
|after Magnesia, Greece
|Joseph Black (1755)
|Humphry Davy (1808)
|Isotopes of magnesium
| Category: Magnesium
In the cosmos, magnesium is produced in large, aging stars by the sequential addition of three helium nuclei to a carbon nucleus. When such stars explode as supernovas, much of the magnesium is expelled into the interstellar medium where it may recycle into new star systems. Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and the fourth most common element in the Earth (after iron, oxygen and silicon), making up 13% of the planet's mass and a large fraction of the planet's mantle. It is the third most abundant element dissolved in seawater, after sodium and chlorine.
This element is the eleventh most abundant element by mass in the human body and is essential to all cells and some 300 enzymes. Magnesium ions interact with polyphosphate compounds such as ATP, DNA, and RNA. Hundreds of enzymes require magnesium ions to function. Magnesium compounds are used medicinally as common laxatives and antacids (such as milk of magnesia), and to stabilize abnormal nerve excitation or blood vessel spasm in such conditions as eclampsia.
Elemental magnesium is a gray-white lightweight metal, two-thirds the density of aluminium. Magnesium has the lowest melting (923 K (650 °C)) and the lowest boiling point (1,363 K (1,090 °C)) of all the alkaline earth metals.
Pure polycrystalline magnesium is brittle and easily fractures along shear bands. It becomes much more malleable when alloyed with small amounts of other metals, such as 1% aluminium. The malleability of polycrystalline magnesium can also be significantly improved by reducing its grain size to ca. 1 micron or less.
When finely powdered, magnesium reacts with water to produce hydrogen gas:
- Mg(s) + 2H2O(g) → Mg(OH)2(aq) + H2(g) + 1203.6 kJ/mol
However, this reaction is much less dramatic than the reactions of the alkali metals with water, because the magnesium hydroxide builds up on the surface of the magnesium metal and inhibits further reaction.
It tarnishes slightly when exposed to air, although, unlike the heavier alkaline earth metals, an oxygen-free environment is unnecessary for storage because magnesium is protected by a thin layer of oxide that is fairly impermeable and difficult to remove.
Direct reaction of magnesium with air or oxygen at ambient pressure forms only the "normal" oxide MgO. However, this oxide may be combined with hydrogen peroxide to form magnesium peroxide, MgO2, and at low temperature the peroxide may be further reacted with ozone to form magnesium superoxide Mg(O2)2.
Magnesium reacts with water at room temperature, though it reacts much more slowly than calcium, a similar group 2 metal. When submerged in water, hydrogen bubbles form slowly on the surface of the metal; this reaction happens much more rapidly with powdered magnesium. The reaction also occurs faster with higher temperatures (see § Safety precautions). Magnesium's reversible reaction with water can be harnessed to store energy and run a magnesium-based engine. Magnesium also reacts exothermically with most acids such as hydrochloric acid (HCl), producing magnesium chloride and hydrogen gas, similar to the HCl reaction with aluminium, zinc, and many other metals.
Magnesium is highly flammable, especially when powdered or shaved into thin strips, though it is difficult to ignite in mass or bulk. Flame temperatures of magnesium and magnesium alloys can reach 3,100 °C (5,610 °F), although flame height above the burning metal is usually less than 300 mm (12 in). Once ignited, such fires are difficult to extinguish because they resist several substances commonly used to put out fires; combustion continues in nitrogen (forming magnesium nitride), in carbon dioxide (forming magnesium oxide and carbon), and in water (forming magnesium oxide and hydrogen, which also combusts due to heat in the presence of additional oxygen). This property was used in incendiary weapons during the firebombing of cities in World War II, where the only practical civil defense was to smother a burning flare under dry sand to exclude atmosphere from the combustion.
Magnesium may also be used as an igniter for thermite, a mixture of aluminium and iron oxide powder that ignites only at a very high temperature.
Organomagnesium compounds are widespread in organic chemistry. They are commonly found as Grignard reagents, formed by reaction of magnesium with haloalkanes. Examples of Grignard reagents are phenylmagnesium bromide and ethylmagnesium bromide. The Grignard reagents function as a common nucleophile, attacking the electrophilic group such as the carbon atom that is present within the polar bond of a carbonyl group.
A prominent organomagnesium reagent beyond Grignard reagents is magnesium anthracene, with magnesium forming a 1,4-bridge over the central ring. It is used as a source of highly active magnesium. The related butadiene-magnesium adduct serves as a source for the butadiene dianion.
Magnesium in organic chemistry also appears as low valent magnesium compounds, primarily with the magnesium forming diatomic ions in the +1 oxidation state but more recently also with zero oxidation state or a mixture of +1 and zero states. Such compounds find synthetic application as reducing agents and sources of nucleophilic metal atoms.
Source of light
When burning in air, magnesium produces a brilliant white light that includes strong ultraviolet wavelengths. Magnesium powder (flash powder) was used for subject illumination in the early days of photography. Later, magnesium filament was used in electrically ignited single-use photography flashbulbs. Magnesium powder is used in fireworks and marine flares where a brilliant white light is required. It was also used for various theatrical effects, such as lightning, pistol flashes, and supernatural appearances.
Detection in solution
The presence of magnesium ions can be detected by the addition of ammonium chloride, ammonium hydroxide and monosodium phosphate to an aqueous or dilute HCl solution of the salt. The formation of a white precipitate indicates the presence of magnesium ions.
Magnesium is the eighth-most-abundant element in the Earth's crust by mass and tied in seventh place with iron in molarity. It is found in large deposits of magnesite, dolomite, and other minerals, and in mineral waters, where magnesium ion is soluble.
cation is the second-most-abundant cation in seawater (about 1⁄8 the mass of sodium ions in a given sample), which makes seawater and sea salt attractive commercial sources for Mg. To extract the magnesium, calcium hydroxide is added to seawater to form magnesium hydroxide precipitate.
2 + Ca(OH)
2 → Mg(OH)
2 + CaCl
2 + 2 HCl → MgCl
2 + 2 H
From magnesium chloride, electrolysis produces magnesium.
As of 2013, magnesium alloys consumption was less than one million tonnes per year, compared with 50 million tonnes of aluminium alloys. Their use has been historically limited by the tendency of Mg alloys to corrode, creep at high temperatures, and combust.
In magnesium alloys, the presence of iron, nickel, copper, or cobalt strongly activates corrosion. In more than trace amounts, these metals precipitate as intermetallic compounds, and the precipitate locales function as active cathodic sites that reduce water, causing the loss of magnesium. Controlling the quantity of these metals improves corrosion resistance. Sufficient manganese overcomes the corrosive effects of iron. This requires precise control over composition, increasing costs. Adding a cathodic poison captures atomic hydrogen within the structure of a metal. This prevents the formation of free hydrogen gas, an essential factor of corrosive chemical processes. The addition of about one in three hundred parts arsenic reduces the corrosion rate of magnesium in a salt solution by a factor of nearly ten.
High-temperature creep and flammability
Magnesium's tendency to creep (gradually deform) at high temperatures is greatly reduced by alloying with zinc and rare-earth elements. Flammability is significantly reduced by a small amount of calcium in the alloy. By using rare-earth elements, it may be possible to manufacture magnesium alloys that are able to not catch fire at higher temperatures compared to magnesium's liquidus and in some cases potentially pushing it close to magnesium's boiling point.
Magnesium forms a variety of compounds important to industry and biology, including magnesium carbonate, magnesium chloride, magnesium citrate, magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia), magnesium oxide, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium sulfate heptahydrate (Epsom salts).
Magnesium has three stable isotopes: 24
Mg and 26
Mg. All are present in significant amounts in nature (see table of isotopes above). About 79% of Mg is 24
Mg. The isotope 28
Mg is radioactive and in the 1950s to 1970s was produced by several nuclear power plants for use in scientific experiments. This isotope has a relatively short half-life (21 hours) and its use was limited by shipping times.
The nuclide 26
Mg has found application in isotopic geology, similar to that of aluminium. 26
Mg is a radiogenic daughter product of 26
Al, which has a half-life of 717,000 years. Excessive quantities of stable 26
Mg have been observed in the Ca-Al-rich inclusions of some carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. This anomalous abundance is attributed to the decay of its parent 26
Al in the inclusions, and researchers conclude that such meteorites were formed in the solar nebula before the 26
Al had decayed. These are among the oldest objects in the Solar System and contain preserved information about its early history.
It is conventional to plot 26
Mg against an Al/Mg ratio. In an isochron dating plot, the Al/Mg ratio plotted is 27
Mg. The slope of the isochron has no age significance, but indicates the initial 26
Al ratio in the sample at the time when the systems were separated from a common reservoir.
World production was approximately 1,100 kt in 2017, with the bulk being produced in China (930 kt) and Russia (60 kt). The United States was in the 20th century the major world supplier of this metal, supplying 45% of world production even as recently as 1995. Since the Chinese mastery of the Pidgeon process the US market share is at 7%, with a single US producer left: US Magnesium, a Renco Group company in Utah born from now-defunct Magcorp.
In September 2021, China took steps to reduce production of magnesium as a result of a government initiative to reduce energy availability for manufacturing industries, leading to a significant price increase.
China is almost completely reliant on the silicothermic Pidgeon process (the reduction of the oxide at high temperatures with silicon, often provided by a ferrosilicon alloy in which the iron is but a spectator in the reactions) to obtain the metal. The process can also be carried out with carbon at approx 2300 °C:
(s) + Si
(s) + 2CaO
(s) → 2Mg
(g) + Ca
(s) + C
(s) → Mg
(g) + CO
In the United States, magnesium is obtained principally with the Dow process, by electrolysis of fused magnesium chloride from brine and sea water. A saline solution containing Mg2+
ions is first treated with lime (calcium oxide) and the precipitated magnesium hydroxide is collected:
(aq) + CaO(s) + H
2O(l) → Ca2+
(aq) + Mg(OH)
2(s) + 2HCl(aq) → MgCl
2(aq) + 2H
2(g) + 2
A new process, solid oxide membrane technology, involves the electrolytic reduction of MgO. At the cathode, Mg2+
ion is reduced by two electrons to magnesium metal. The electrolyte is yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ). The anode is a liquid metal. At the YSZ/liquid metal anode O2−
is oxidized. A layer of graphite borders the liquid metal anode, and at this interface carbon and oxygen react to form carbon monoxide. When silver is used as the liquid metal anode, there is no reductant carbon or hydrogen needed, and only oxygen gas is evolved at the anode. It has been reported that this method provides a 40% reduction in cost per pound over the electrolytic reduction method.
The name magnesium originates from the Greek word for locations related to the tribe of the Magnetes, either a district in Thessaly called Magnesia or Magnesia ad Sipylum, now in Turkey. It is related to magnetite and manganese, which also originated from this area, and required differentiation as separate substances. See manganese for this history.
In 1618, a farmer at Epsom in England attempted to give his cows water from a local well. The cows refused to drink because of the water's bitter taste, but the farmer noticed that the water seemed to heal scratches and rashes. The substance obtained by evaporating the water became known as Epsom salts and its fame spread. It was eventually recognized as hydrated magnesium sulfate, MgSO
The metal itself was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy in England in 1808. He used electrolysis on a mixture of magnesia and mercuric oxide. Antoine Bussy prepared it in coherent form in 1831. Davy's first suggestion for a name was 'magnium', but the name magnesium is now used in most European languages.