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Element 27: King of the blues
four blue blobsOK, so it isn’t really blue when you take this close a look. But it’s still cobalt, or at least a smart depiction of the element from the folks at NASA.

This computer-generated graphic shows how electronic charges are distributed across the surface of a molecule made of two cobalt atoms. Visualizing molecules this way helps scientists understand how different molecules merge and break apart in chemical reactions.

In this striking image, negative charges are represented by shades of blue (the darker the denser), and the black spots show the parts of the molecule out of the computer program’s range.

Cobalt the element may be less well known than its namesake, the color. But not coincidentally, the color is so-named because the element is the key ingredient in a pigment that transforms ordinary glass into a fabulous blue tint.

In its natural form, cobalt is usually combined with other metals. When isolated, it looks more like a chunk of iron than a leggy blue blob. It’s usually found in meteorites or recovered as a byproduct when minerals like nickel, lead, and copper are mined and refined.

It’s useful, too, and not just for little glass bluebirds. In fact, Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope, is a source of gamma rays used to treat some forms of cancer. Cobalt is also a part of metal alloys employed in jet engines and gas turbines.

Beat that, navy.

NASA


       
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