Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg and atomic number 12. Its common oxidation number is +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth-most-abundant element in the Earth’s crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole. Magnesium is the fourth-most-common element in the Earth as a whole (behind iron, oxygen and silicon), making up 13% of the planet’s mass and a large fraction of the planet’s mantle. The relative abundance of magnesium is related to the fact that it easily builds up in supernova stars from a sequential addition of three helium nuclei to carbon (which in turn is made from three helium nuclei). Due to magnesium ion’s high solubility in water, it is the third-most-abundant element dissolved in seawater. Magnesium is produced in stars larger than 3 solar masses by fusing helium and neon in the alpha process at temperatures above 600 megakelvins.
The free element (metal) is not found naturally on Earth, as it is highly reactive (though once produced, it is coated in a thin layer of oxide (see passivation), which partly masks this reactivity). The free metal burns with a characteristic brilliant-white light, making it a useful ingredient in flares. The metal is now obtained mainly by electrolysis of magnesium salts obtained from brine. In commerce, the chief use for the metal is as an alloying agent to make aluminium-magnesium alloys, sometimes called magnalium or magnelium. Since magnesium is less dense than aluminium, these alloys are prized for their relative lightness and strength.Visit our InfoTIP Glossary