Thorium

Much of the interest in element number 90 at the moment is its potential to serve as an alternative to uranium (element number 92) in the generation of nuclear power. Most people, however, have encountered thorium through altogether less exotic means… in a camping lantern.

A thorium lantern mantle.

A lantern mantle laced with either thorium dioxide or thorium nitrate along with other rare-earth metal salts which glow brightly when heated.

Thorium lantern mantles consist of a synthetic-fiber mesh laced with either thorium dioxide (ThO2) or thorium nitrate (Th(NO3)4) as well as other salts of rare-earth metals. When heated via the burning of the lantern’s fuel, these compounds glow brightly. Recently, thorium mantles have begun to be replaced with mantles using other, non-radioactive compounds.

My other sample for thorium is this broken aeschynite – (Y) crystal.

A sample of aeschynite - (Y)

A sample of aeschynite – (Y), a thorium-bearing mineral.

Aeschynite – (Y) (chemical formula: (Y,Ca,Fe,Th)(Ti,Nb)2(O,OH)6) is a great mineral for collectors of the elements, containing a multitude of the rare-earth metals. Unfortunately, I’ve elected to only allow each sample in my collection to represent only one element, so I’ll need to do a little more work to get some of the other rare-earths. As shown on the sample’s label, this particular crystal was mined in Chaffee County, Colorado.

My latest sample of thorium is this strange object.

A thoriated tungsten electrode... probably.

A thoriated tungsten electrode… probably.

This moderately-radioactive metallic curiosity (identified by the vendor as an electrode of some kind… probably) is made from an alloy of tungsten and thorium. If it is the same ratio seen in thoriated tungsten welding rods, it is composed of roughly 2% thorium, but the actual ratio is unknown to the vendor, and I can only dream about possessing the necessary equipment to determine it.

Being composed of two very dense metals, this sample is surprisingly heavy for its size, weighing in at slightly over 97.46g (3.4oz).

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