Physical Properties of Hydrogen

Hydrogen is an element and the most abundant one in the universe. It is listed in the Periodic Table of Elements, represented as the symbol H. Hydrogen has been used in everything from the potential destruction of humans to cleaning up the environment using hydrogen-based fuel technology.

Physical Properties of Hydrogen

Think of our solar system as a representation of an atom. The sun is the nucleus and the outer planets are the electrons circling it. In the case of hydrogen, there is 1 proton, (sun) and 1 electron (the planet mercury).

Hydrogen is the only element in the Periodic Table without a neutron in the nucleus. This is what distinguishes a hydrogen atom from others. Hydrogen is also assigned the number 1. This relates to the number of protons in its nucleus. According to Anthony Carpi, Ph.D., on Vision Learning, hydrogen is also the smallest atom, measuring 5 X 10-8 millimetres. To imagine that size Carpi says it's like taking, "...almost 20 million hydrogen atoms to make a line as long as this dash -."

The physical properties of hydrogen make it an element that easily binds with other atoms, forming molecules, even with itself. And according to David L. Bergman of Common Sense Science, "...single, stand-alone atoms of hydrogen are unstable and do not exist." That is why hydrogen is usually found in molecule form.

The composition of hydrogen rests with 1 proton and 1 electron.

Hydrogen's Atomic Mass Unit, or AMU

Hydrogen's weight, (mass), comes from the proton in the nucleus and the electron, calculated based on the findings from the Carbon-12 atom that equals 1.9926 x 10 -23g. Hydrogen's AMU is 1.00794 and comes from hydrogen's proton and electron as well the isotope of hydrogen, deuterium, which has 1 proton and 1 neutron in the nucleus.

This mass, or weight, is an average of naturally occurring hydrogen, and its isotope, according to Chemistry Review.

Other Particles of Hydrogen

Quarks are subatomic particles that make up all matter in the universe. These particles make up the protons and neutrons contained in all atoms. According to, "quarks...are seen as the elementary particles."

With hydrogen lacking a neutron in its natural state doesn't mean that quarks are also absent. However, no one has ever directly seen a quark, but they are inferred from studies called "scatter experiments," according to Hyper Physics of Georgia State University.

Hydrogen Isotopes

Hydrogen's isotopes are protium, deuterium and tritium. They are the only isotopes of all the elements to use different names according to Los Alamos National Laboratory. Isotopes are a variant of the original atom in that the number of neutrons in the nucleus vary.

Dueterium, also known as heavy water, is used in nuclear reactors to slow down neutron activity, the particles responsible for splitting atoms apart. Tritium is used in the production of thermonuclear bomb construction in fusion reactions where two atoms fuse together releasing tremendous amounts of energy.

Hydrogen, Fuel of Stars

Hydrogen is the element that fuels the stars in the universe through a process called fusion. This same reaction also takes place when nuclear bombs detonate. In the case of stars, the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium produces the tremendous energy found in this type of reaction.

The source of fuel for any sun is finite, and carries all that it will ever have. Once the hydrogen is depleted, the sun will change appearance, eventually going through many phases until its death.

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About the Author

Michael Velardo is a writer and former substance abuse counselor from metro Detroit. He has a liberal arts degree from Muskegon Community College, paralegal certificate, gardening certificate, business systems technology certificate, and Editor's Workshop certificate. Velardo is pursuing publication of his book, Crash Test Addict. He has interests in the natural sciences, and published articles on