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In 1892 English physicist John William Strutt (better known as Lord Rayleigh) announced that no matter how it was prepared, oxygen was always 15.882 times denser than hydrogen.
This very precise work had taken ten years to complete.
The new gas wouldn’t react with anything, so they named it argon, from the Greek ‘argos’, meaning inactive or lazy.
William Ramsay discovered or codiscovered most of the other noble gases: helium, neon, krypton and xenon. Potassium-argon, then argon-argon dating confirmed Homo erectus was present in Java 1.8 million years ago, upsetting the ideas of a number of archeologists.
Funnily enough, Rayleigh viewed pure nitrogen, containing no argon, as ‘abnormally light nitrogen.’ He stored it for eight months and retested it to see whether its density would increase.
Rayleigh’s paper awakened the serious interest of Scottish chemist William Ramsay, who had already been aware of the problem.
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Upper limits for the times at which these impact events occurred have been estimated.
William Ramsay discovered argon when he first saw its spectrum and realized it matched no other’s. Cavendish was unhappy that so little was known about air.
He was particularly unhappy about the lack of information about the fraction of air (the majority) which was not oxygen.
The extent of radiogenic argon loss in these samples ranges from 7 percent to ≥ 48 percent.
Potassium-argon ages, corrected for the effects of this loss, cluster relatively closely around the value of 3.7 x 10 years ago.