Element 54 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is xenon. Xenon is used in some car headlights, to propel some satellites and spacecraft, and also in some types of medical imaging.

Many car headlights, particularly those in more modern cars, use xenon. Despite commonly being referred to as xenon headlights, these are actually metal halide lamps. Xenon gas is present in them, and is used to ensure the lamps produce enough light when they start up, as well as shortening the amount of time it takes them to do so. Other lighting applications xenon finds use in include tanning beds, camera flashes, and some types of neon lights.

Xenon also finds use in ion propulsion engines. These engines help propel a number of satellites and spacecraft, using xenon gas to emit a beam of positively charged xenon ions.

Xenon isotopes are useful in medical imaging. Xe-133 gives of gamma radiation and can be used to image the heart, lungs and brain. Xe-129 is used as an MRI contrast agent in the imaging of the lungs.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.