White Phosphorus

This stuff is fantastically nasty! Read on...


White Phosphorus is a waxy white solid that ignites at room temperature, so it must be stored under water. So, if taken out of the water there is time to use it while it is still wet, but once the water evaporater, it ignites. When we tried to cut the still wet waxy substance, the friction of the knife set it ablaze! It was quickly extinguished with water. White phosphorus can be dissolved in carbon disulphide. Phosphorus glows in the dark when exposed to damp air in a process known as chemiluminescence. The orange colour on the surface is probably Red Phosphorus that has formed.

*Pics of chemiluminescence coming soon...*

When White phosphorus is burned, it forms tetraphosphorus decaoxide, P4O10 and it spews out lots of smoke (I tell you it is very irritating to the lungs!). It also burns very bright and for a very long time; this gram of white phosphorus burned for like 2 minutes! It tends to spit out little spark like tendrils of flame while burning (one seen in this pic).

Here's a cautionary tale about not messing with cylindrical objects: back in the day some kids who lived near an air force base found a marker buoy washed up on the beach that still contained phosphorus. When they picked it up some got onto their skin, and soon ignited. They managed to douse it, but it continued to re-ignite as soon as it dried, and ultimately doctors in the emergency unit had to actually dig the stuff out with a scalpel - ouch!

Here is data for White Phosphorus

Name: Phosphorus
-Symbol: P
-Atomic Number: 15
-Atomic Mass: 30.97376 amu
-CAS Registry ID: 7723-14-0
-Group number: 15
-Group name: Pnictogen
-Period number: 3
-Melting Point: 44.1 °C (317.25 °K, 111.38 °F)
-Boiling Point: 280.0 °C (553.15 °K, 536.0 °F)
-Number of Protons/Electrons: 15
-Number of Neutrons: 16
-Classification: Non-metal
-Crystal Structure: Monoclinic
-Density @ 293 K: 1.82 g/cm3

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