Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterWritten records indicate that Robert Boyle produced hydrogen gas as early as 1671 while experimenting with iron and acids, but hydrogen was first recognized as a distinct element by Henry Cavendish in 1766. No one really knows how long hydrogen had been being produced without being recognized before that. So, who discovered hydrogen? Technically, it is Henry Cavendish because he took the time to document it as a distinct element.
Hydrogen is the simplest and most plentiful element in the Universe. It is compromised of a single proton and a single electron. It has been proposed that 90% of the visible universe is hydrogen or a hydrogen compound. Hydrogen is the raw fuel that powers stars. Once that begins to deplete, stars burn its byproduct,helium. Our Sun will run out of hydrogen in about 5 billion years and will then explode, destroying all of the planets in the process.
Hydrogen has many commercial applications. Large amounts of hydrogen are combined with nitrogen from to produce ammonia through the Haber process. Hydrogen is also added to fats and oils, such as peanut oil, through a process called hydrogenation. Liquid hydrogen is used in the study of superconductors and, when combined with liquid oxygen, makes an excellent rocket fuel. Hydrogen combines with other elements to form numerous compounds. Some of the common ones are: water, ammonia, methane, table sugar, hydrogen peroxide, and hydrochloric acid.
Hydrogen has three isotopes: two are stable and the third is radioactive with a half-life of 12.5 years. Protium is the simplest form of hydrogen, just one proton and one electron. Next is deuterium, which is stable and has one proton, one neutron, and one electron. The third is the radioactive cousin. Tritium has one proton, two neutrons, and an electron. Tritium has been produced for nuclear weapons in special heavy water reactors. It is now produced in smaller amounts using improved methods.
The all present hydrogen atom is essential to the life processes here on Earth and among the stars. Here on Universe Today we have several great articles about hydrogen and its uses. One is about getting cargo to space cheaply and the other is about NASA finding hydrogen bouncing off of the Moon. Astronomy Cast offers a good episode about using hydrogen in interstellar travel.