Photo of neon liquors sign in St. Petersburg, Florida (2014).
Neon is a chemical element with symbol Ne and atomic number 10. It is in group 18 (noble gases) of the periodic table. Neon is a colorless, odorless, inert monatomic gas under standard conditions, with about two-thirds the density of air. It was discovered (along with krypton and xenon) in 1898 as one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide are removed. Neon was the second of these three rare gases to be discovered, and was immediately recognized as a new element from its bright red emission spectrum. The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος [neos], meaning new. Neon is chemically inert and forms no uncharged chemical compounds.
During cosmic nucleogenesis of the elements, large amounts of neon are built up from the alpha-capture fusion process in stars. Although neon is a very common element in the universe and solar system (it is fifth in cosmic abundance after hydrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon), it is very rare on Earth. It composes about 18.2 ppm of air by volume (this is about the same as the molecular or mole fraction), and a smaller fraction in Earth’s crust. The reason for neon’s relative scarcity on Earth and the inner (terrestrial) planets, is that neon forms no compounds to fix it to solids, and is highly volatile, therefore escaping from the planetesimals under the warmth of the newly ignited Sun in the early Solar System. Even the atmosphere of Jupiter is somewhat depleted of neon, presumably for this reason.
Neon gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low-voltage neon glow lamps or in high-voltage discharge tubes or neon advertising signs. The red emission line from neon is also responsible for the well known red light of helium–neon lasers. Neon is used in a few plasma tube and refrigerant applications but has few other commercial uses. It is commercially extracted by the fractional distillation of liquid air. It is considerably more expensive than helium, since air is its only source.