Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V01, Page 685 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ALKALINE EARTHS. The so-called alkaline earth-metals are the elements beryllium, magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium. By the early chemists, the term earth was used to denote those non-metallic substances which were insoluble in water and were unaffected by strong heating; and as some of these substances (e.g. lime) were found to be very similar in properties to those of the alkalis, they were called alkaline earths. The alkaline earths were assumed to be elements until 1807, when Sir H. Davy showed that they were oxides of various metals. The metals comprising this group are never found in the uncombined condition, but occur most often in the form of carbonates and sulphates; they form oxides of the type RO, and in the case of calcium, strontium and barium, of the type R02. The oxides of type RO are soluble in water, the solution possessing a strongly alkaline reaction and rapidly absorbing carbon dioxide on exposure; they are basic in character and dissolve readily in acids with the formation of the corresponding salts. As the atomic weight of the element increases, it is found that the solubility of the sulphates in water decreases. Beryllium to a certain extent stands alone in many of its chemical properties, resembling to some extent the metal aluminium. Beryllium and magnesium are permanent in dry air; calcium, strontium and barium, however, oxidize rapidly on exposure. The salts of all the metals of this group usually crystallize well, the chlorides and nitrates dissolve readily in water, whilst the carbonates, phosphates and sulphates a're either very sparingly soluble or are insoluble in water.

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