Phosphorus is a chemical element with symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus as a mineral is almost always present in its maximally oxidised state, as inorganic phosphate rocks. Elemental phosphorus exists in two major forms—white phosphorus and red phosphorus—but due to its high reactivity, phosphorus is never found as a free element on Earth.
The first form of elemental phosphorus to be produced (white phosphorus, in 1669) emits a faint glow upon exposure to oxygen – hence its name given from Greek mythology, Φωσφόρος meaning "light-bearer" (Latin Lucifer), referring to the "Morning Star", the planet Venus. The term "phosphorescence", meaning glow after illumination, originally derives from this property of phosphorus, although this word has since been used for a different physical process that produces a glow. The glow of phosphorus itself originates from oxidation of the white (but not red) phosphorus— a process now termed chemiluminescence.
The vast majority of phosphorus compounds are consumed as fertilisers. Other applications include the role of organophosphorus compounds in detergents, pesticides and nerve agents, and matches.
Phosphorus is essential for life. As phosphate, it is a component of DNA, RNA, ATP, and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Demonstrating the link between phosphorus and life, elemental phosphorus was historically first isolated from human urine, and bone ash was an important early phosphate source. Phosphate minerals are fossils. Low phosphate levels are an important limit to growth in some aquatic systems. The chief commercial use of phosphorus compounds for production of fertilisers is due to the need to replace the phosphorus that plants remove from the soil.