Aluminium ( ) or aluminum ( ) is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances. Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust, and the third most abundant element, after oxygen and silicon. It makes up about 8% by weight of the Earth's solid surface. Aluminium is too reactive chemically to occur in nature as a free metal. Instead, it is found combined in over 270 different minerals. The chief source of aluminium is bauxite ore.
Aluminium is remarkable for the metal's low density and for its ability to resist corrosion due to the phenomenon of passivation. Structural components made from aluminium and its alloys are vital to the aerospace industry and are very important in other areas of transportation and building. Its reactive nature makes it useful as a catalyst or additive in chemical mixtures, including ammonium nitrate explosives, to enhance blast power.
Despite its prevalence in the environment, aluminium salts are not known to be used by any form of life. Also in keeping with the element's abundance, it is well tolerated by plants in soils (in which it is a major component), and to a lesser extent, by animals as a component of plant materials in the diet (which often contain traces of dust and soil). Soluble aluminium salts have some demonstrated toxicity to animals if delivered in quantity by unnatural routes, such as injection. Controversy still exists about aluminium's possible long-term toxicity to humans from larger ingested amounts.
Aluminium is a soft, durable, lightweight, ductile and malleable metal with appearance ranging from silvery to dull gray, depending on the surface roughness. Aluminium is nonmagnetic and nonsparking. It is also insoluble in alcohol, though it can be soluble in water in certain forms. The yield strength of pure aluminium is 7–11 MPa, while aluminium alloys have yield strengths ranging from 200 MPa to 600 MPa. Aluminium has about one-third the density and stiffness of steel. It is easily machined, cast, drawn and extruded.
Corrosion resistance can be excellent due to a thin surface layer of aluminium oxide that forms when the metal is exposed to air, effectively preventing further oxidation. The strongest aluminium alloys are less corrosion resistant due to galvanic reactions with alloyed copper. This corrosion resistance is also often greatly reduced when many aqueous salts are present, particularly in the presence of dissimilar metals.
Aluminium is one of the few metals that retain full silvery reflectance in finely powdered form, making it an important component of silver paints. Aluminium mirror finish has the highest reflectance of any metal in the 200–400 nm (UV) and the 3,000–10,000 nm (far IR) regions; in the 400–700 nm visible range it is slightly outperformed by tin and silver and in the 700–3000 (near IR) by silver, gold, and copper.
Aluminium is a good thermal and electrical conductor, having 62% the conductivity of copper. Aluminium is capable of being a superconductor, with a superconducting critical temperature of 1.2 kelvins and a critical magnetic field of about 100 gauss (10 milliteslas).
Aluminium has many known isotopes, whose mass numbers range from 21 to 42; however, only 27Al (stable isotope) and 26Al (radioactive isotope, t1/2 = 7.2×105 y) occur naturally. 27Al has a natural abundance above 99.9%. 26Al is produced from argon in the atmosphere by spallation caused by cosmic-ray protons. Aluminium isotopes have found practical application in dating marine sediments, manganese nodules, glacial ice, quartz in rock exposures, and meteorites. The ratio of 26Al to 10Be has been used to study the role of transport, deposition, sediment storage, burial times, and erosion on 105 to 106 year time scales. Cosmogenic 26Al was first applied in studies of the Moon and meteorites. Meteoroid fragments, after departure from their parent bodies, are exposed to intense cosmic-ray bombardment during their travel through space, causing substantial 26Al production. After falling to Earth, atmospheric shielding drastically reduces 26Al production, and its decay can then be used to determine the meteorite's terrestrial age. Meteorite research has also shown that 26Al was relatively abundant at the time of formation of our planetary system. Most meteorite scientists believe that the energy released by the decay of 26Al was responsible for the melting and differentiation of some asteroids after their formation 4.55 billion years ago.