X – Xenon: The Noble Gas of Light

What has Xenon got to do with writing you may ask? In this A-Z blog of How to Build a Writer I have mostly focused on concrete skills necessary to become the best writer you can be, but there is a whole other more abstract side to being a writer that I shall illuminate for you now…

First for some science, because I just cannot resist…

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Xenon also known as Xe on the periodic table has an atomic number of 54 and it is one of the Noble gases: so called because it has a completely filled outer electronic shell; for a long  time it was considered to be inert which means unreactive and unable to form compounds.

The reason that Xenon is so exciting for me (as well as filling in the dreaded X letter for this A-Z challenge!), is that when a current is passed through it it glows blue.

Now think about the abstract invisible quality of creativity. It lies there dormant in the brain until you have an idea. An idea causes an ‘electric current’ to pass through your ‘inert’ creativity which then illuminates your path for at least a small section or scene in your narrative. Inevitably, to maintain the light, you must consistently produce a steady ‘current’ of ideas. Do you think ‘direct’ or ‘alternating currents’ of ideas would be better?

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A mix of Xenon and Krypton produces this striking blue

I often get bogged down in the plot. My  creativity, inert from lack of ideas or perhaps only faintly flickering with light so poor I can barely see my own feet, struggles to provide for what happens next. In the dark I wander aimlessly with my characters having no direction and simply reacting to events. Of course, the characters in great literature take control, make decisions and are proactive. Finding a way to maintain a permanent current running through my creativity without it burning or shorting the circuits of my brain would be very welcome indeed!

Now consider Xenon compounds.

Research into why there is less Xenon in Earth’s atmosphere than would be expected has resulted in the discovery of Xenon compounds: namely halides and oxides (compounds of fluorine and oxygen).

In 2005 at the Marie Curie University in Paris, scientists discovered that at high pressures and temperatures Xenon displaced silicon in quartz. Further studies by various scientists in France, the UK and the USA have revealed that, under simulated conditions of the interiors of ‘ice-giant’ planets such as Uranus and Neptune, Xenon forms Xe4O12H12. This compound is theorised to be weakly metallic in character and could be formed in superionic ice.

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Returning to our analogy of Xenon representing creativity. What if the creativity we use as writers is only the tiniest proportion available to us and most of it is hidden in our subconscious under ‘high temperatures and pressures’? How would one access and process the ‘ore’ into usable ‘gas’.

Science Fiction meets Science Fact

Lastly I’d like to draw your attention to a specific application of Xenon that has been born out of science fiction but has become a reality. The ion space engine. This is incredible piece of science that will enable probes to be sent further and faster than ever before. Nasa’s Dawn mission launched in 2007 and is currently orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

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Map of the solar system.

The ion space engine uses Xenon gas to propel the engine, but Xenon is not combustible and is not a fuel. What?! How does it work then? Xenon is split apart into positive and negative ions and then that charge is used to propel a spacecraft by ejecting it into space and using Newton’s Third Law of Motion – every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if you propel positive and negative ions in one direction at 90,000 mph, the ship will travel in the opposite direction at the same speed.

That’s pretty awesome right? So that’s it for X. A mix of Alchemical thought and Science fact for your reading pleasure. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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