Calcium - Notable Characteristics

Notable Characteristics

In chemical terms, calcium is reactive and soft for a metal (though harder than lead, it can be cut with a knife with difficulty). It is a silvery metallic element that must be extracted by electrolysis from a fused salt like calcium chloride. Once produced, it rapidly forms a gray-white oxide and nitride coating when exposed to air. In bulk form (typically as chips or "turnings"), the metal is somewhat difficult to ignite, more so even than magnesium chips; but, when lit, the metal burns in air with a brilliant high-intensity orange-red light. Calcium metal reacts with water, evolving hydrogen gas at a rate rapid enough to be noticeable, but not fast enough at room temperature to generate much heat. In powdered form, however, the reaction with water is extremely rapid, as the increased surface area of the powder accelerates the reaction with the water. Part of the slowness of the calcium-water reaction results from the metal being partly protected by insoluble white calcium hydroxide. In water solutions of acids, where this salt is soluble, calcium reacts vigorously.

Calcium, with a density of 1.55 g/cm3, is the lightest of the alkaline earth metals; magnesium (specific gravity 1.74) and beryllium (1.84) are more dense, although lighter in atomic mass. From strontium onward, the alkali earth metals become more dense with increasing atomic mass.

It has two allotropes.

Calcium has a higher electrical resistivity than copper or aluminium, yet weight-for-weight, due to its much lower density, it is a rather better conductor than either. However, its use in terrestrial applications is usually limited by its high reactivity with air.

Calcium salts are colorless from any contribution of the calcium, and ionic solutions of calcium (Ca2+) are colorless as well. As with magnesium salts and other alkaline earth metal salts, calcium salts are often quite soluble in water. Notable exceptions include the hydroxide, the sulfate (unusual for sulfate salts), the carbonate and the phosphates. With the exception of the sulfate, even the insoluble ones listed are in general more soluble than its transition metal counterparts. When in solution, the calcium ion to the human taste varies remarkably, being reported as mildly salty, sour, "mineral like" or even "soothing." It is apparent that many animals can taste, or develop a taste, for calcium, and use this sense to detect the mineral in salt licks or other sources. In human nutrition, soluble calcium salts may be added to tart juices without much effect to the average palate.

Calcium is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the human body, where it is a common cellular ionic messenger with many functions, and serves also as a structural element in bone. It is the relatively high-atomic-number calcium in the skeleton that causes bone to be radio-opaque. Of the human body's solid components after drying and burning of organics (as for example, after cremation), about a third of the total "mineral" mass remaining, is the approximately one kilogram of calcium that composes the average skeleton (the remainder being mostly phosphorus and oxygen).

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