Sulfur Atomic Number

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Orthorhombic sulfur has a ring of eight sulfur atoms at each lattice point. Rhombohedral sulfur has six-membered rings. In the rhombohedral allotrope, designated ρ-sulfur, the molecules are composed of rings of six sulfur atoms. The Element Sulfur - Basic Physical and Historical Information. 16 S Sulfur 32.066. Atomic Number: 16. Atomic Weight: 32.066. Melting Point: 388.36 K. Atomic Number of Sulfur Sulfur is a chemical element with atomic number 16 which means there are 16 protons and 16 electrons in the atomic structure. The chemical symbol for Sulfur is S. The atom consist of a small but massive nucleus surrounded by a cloud of rapidly moving electrons.

Chemical element. Native mineral. Essential to all living things.

Article by: Hobart M. King, PhD, RPG

Sulfur terminal: Piles of yellow sulfur at a terminal near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The sulfur is brought by rail from oil and natural gas processing facilities in the Province of Alberta. At this terminal it is loaded onto barges and ships for bulk transport. Photo copyright iStockphoto / teekaygee.

Sulfur fumarole: As hot volcanic gases, rich in sulfur, escape from a volcanic vent, the gases cool and sulfur is deposited as yellow crystals around the vent. This fumarole on the island of Kunashir (in the Kuril Islands, northeast of the Japanese island of Hokkaido) has a significant accumulation of bright yellow sulfur. Photo copyright iStockphoto / Sergey Dubrovskiy.

Did You Know? Many strong odors are produced by sulfur compounds. The smell of skunks, matches, garlic, grapefruit, and rotten eggs are caused by sulfur. Image copyright iStockphoto / Florintt, Gio_banfi, Abomb Industries Design, ivelly, and Big_Ryan.

What is Sulfur?

Sulfur is a chemical element with an atomic number of 16 and an atomic symbol of S. At room temperature it is a yellow crystalline solid. Even though it is insoluble in water, it is one of the most versatile elements at forming compounds. Sulfur reacts and forms compounds with all elements except gold, iodine, iridium, nitrogen, platinum, tellurium, and the inert gases.

Sulfur is abundant and occurs throughout the Universe, but it is rarely found in a pure, uncombined form at Earth's surface. As an element, sulfur is an important constituent of sulfate and sulfide minerals. It occurs in the dissolved ions of many waters. It is an important constituent of many atmospheric, subsurface, and dissolved gases. It is an essential element in all living things and is in the organic molecules of all fossil fuels.

Did You Know? The Chinese discovered sulfur in about 2000 BC, used it to make gunpowder in the 7th century, and used gunpowder to launch rockets, shoot projectiles, and make hand grenades in the 10th century.

Physical Properties of Sulfur

Chemical ClassificationNative element
ColorYellow. Brownish yellow to greenish yellow. Red when molten at over 200 degrees Celsius. Burns with a flame that can be difficult to see in daylight but is blue in the dark.
LusterCrystals are resinous to greasy. Powdered sulfur is dull or earthy.
DiaphaneityTransparent to translucent
Mohs Hardness1.5 to 2.5
Specific Gravity2.0 to 2.1
Diagnostic PropertiesYellow color, low hardness, low specific gravity, extremely flammable burning with a blue flame, low melting temperature
Chemical CompositionS
Crystal SystemOrthorhombic
UsesAbout 90% is used to manufacture sulfuric acid. The remainder is used in a variety of products that include hydrogen sulfide, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, pharmaceuticals, soaps, textiles, papers, processed rubber, gunpowder, leather, paint, dyes, food preservatives.

World Sulfur Production: During 2015, an estimated 70 million metric tons of sulfur was produced worldwide. The production was widely divided among a large number of countries. The top 12 producing countries were China, the United States, Russia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Kazakhstan, Iran, United Arab Emirates, and Mexico. These countries are where the sulfur was separated from its geologic source material rather than the original source of the sulfur, since most sulfur is separated when fossil fuels are processed or sulfide ores are smelted. Data from the United States Geological Survey. [7]

Sulfur is Abundant and Everywhere!

The information below should convince you that sulfur is extremely abundant and present everywhere.

  • 11th most abundant element in the human body [1]
  • 6th most abundant element in seawater [2]
  • 14th most abundant element in Earth’s crust [3]
  • 9th most abundant element in the entire Earth [4]
  • 10th most abundant element in the solar system [5]
  • 10th most abundant element in the Universe [6]

Sulfur Crystals: Bright yellow sulfur crystal group showing the mineral's characteristic orthorhombic crystal form and resinous luster. Specimen measures approximately 7.3 x 6.6 x 5.3 centimeters in size and was collected from the Agrigento Province, Sicily, Italy. Specimen and photo by Arkenstone /

Burning sulfur: Pieces of sulfur burning in daylight and in the dark. Photo by Johannes 'volty' Hemmerlein, used here under a GNU Free Documentation License.

Did You Know? Jupiter's moon, Io, has over 400 active volcanoes that emit enormous amounts of sulfur - so much sulfur that the moon has a yellowish color.

Sulfur Atomic Number And Symbol

'Sulfur' or 'Sulphur'?

The name 'sulphur' has been used in the United Kingdom and throughout the British Empire for hundreds of years. 'Sulfur' is the spelling used in common and scientific communication in the United States. In 1990 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry designated 'sulfur' as the preferred spelling. How the word is spelled can often reveal the age and origin of publications and authors.

Information Sources
[1] What Elements Are Found in the Human Body? Article in the Building Blocks of Life section of the Arizona School of Life Sciences website, accessed November 2016.
[2] Periodic Table of Elements in the Ocean, article on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute website, accessed November 2016.
[3] List of Periodic Table Elements Sorted by Abundance in Earth's Crust, article on the Israel Science and Technology website, accessed November 2016.
[4] The Composition of the Earth, by William F. McDonough, Chapter 1 in Earthquake Thermodynamics and Phase Transformations in the Earth’s Interior, manuscript on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, accessed November 2016.
[5] Solar System Abundances and Condensation Temperatures of the Elements by Katharina Lodders, article published on The Astrophysical Journal website, accessed November 2016.
[6] Abundance in the Universe of the Elements, article on the website, accessed November 2016.
[7] Sulfur, by Lori E. Apodaca, United States Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, 2016.
[8] The International Mineralogical Association Database of Mineral Properties, an online database of minerals along with their chemical and physical properties that can be queried and sorted by anyone with internet access.

Sulfur as a Native Element Mineral

Sulfur atomic model

As a mineral, sulfur is a bright yellow crystalline material. It forms near volcanic vents and fumaroles, where it sublimates from a stream of hot gases. Small amounts of native sulfur also form during the weathering of sulfate and sulfide minerals.

The largest accumulations of mineral sulfur are found in the subsurface. Many of these are in fractures and cavities associated with sulfide ore mineralization. The largest are associated with evaporite minerals, where gypsum and anhydrite yield native sulfur as a product of bacterial action. Significant amounts of sulfur have been produced from the cap rock of salt domes but this type of production is rarely done today.

Related: Blue Flames caused by burning sulfur, in this night scene from Kawah Ijen Volcano, located on the island of Java, Indonesia.

The best way to learn about minerals is to study with a collection of small specimens that you can handle, examine, and observe their properties. Inexpensive mineral collections are available in the Store.

Minerals That Contain Sulfur

According to the International Mineralogical Association's database, over 1000 minerals contain sulfur as an essential part of their composition. [8] This is a result of sulfur's ability to form compounds with all but a few other elements. The tables below list a small number of sulfide, sulfarsenide, sulfosalt and sulfate minerals. Many of the most common sulfur minerals are included in the list, but the list is not intended to be complete.

Sulfide Minerals:


Sulfarsenide Minerals:


Sulfosalt Minerals:


Hydroxide and Hydrous Sulfate Minerals:


Anhydrous Sulfate Minerals:


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The Element Sulfur

[Click for Isotope Data]

Atomic Number: 16

Atomic Weight: 32.066

Melting Point: 388.36 K (115.21°C or 239.38°F)

Boiling Point: 717.75 K (444.60°C or 832.28°F)

Density: 2.067 grams per cubic centimeter

Phase at Room Temperature: Solid

Element Classification: Non-metal

Period Number: 3

Group Number: 16

Group Name: Chalcogen

What's in a name? From the Sanskrit word sulvere and the Latin word sulphurium.

Say what? Sulfur is pronounced as SUL-fer.

History and Uses:

Sulfur, the tenth most abundant element in the universe, has been known since ancient times. Sometime around 1777, Antoine Lavoisier convinced the rest of the scientific community that sulfur was an element. Sulfur is a component of many common minerals, such as galena (PbS), gypsum (CaSO4·2(H2O), pyrite (FeS2), sphalerite (ZnS or FeS), cinnabar (HgS), stibnite (Sb2S3), epsomite (MgSO4·7(H2O)), celestite (SrSO4) and barite (BaSO4). Nearly 25% of the sulfur produced today is recovered from petroleum refining operations and as a byproduct of extracting other materials from sulfur containing ores. The majority of the sulfur produced today is obtained from underground deposits, usually found in conjunction with salt deposits, with a process known as the Frasch process.

Sulfur Atomic Number And Mass Number

Sulfur is a pale yellow, odorless and brittle material. It displays three allotropic forms: orthorhombic, monoclinic and amorphous. The orthorhombic form is the most stable form of sulfur. Monoclinic sulfur exists between the temperatures of 96°C and 119°C and reverts back to the orthorhombic form when cooled. Amorphous sulfur is formed when molten sulfur is quickly cooled. Amorphous sulfur is soft and elastic and eventually reverts back to the orthorhombic form.

Most of the sulfur that is produced is used in the manufacture of sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Large amounts of sulfuric acid, nearly 40 million tons, are used each year to make fertilizers, lead-acid batteries, and in many industrial processes. Smaller amounts of sulfur are used to vulcanize natural rubbers, as an insecticide (the Greek poet Homer mentioned 'pest-averting sulphur' nearly 2,800 years ago!), in the manufacture of gunpowder and as a dying agent.

In addition to sulfuric acid, sulfur forms other interesting compounds. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a gas that smells like rotten eggs. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), formed by burning sulfur in air, is used as a bleaching agent, solvent, disinfectant and as a refrigerant. When combined with water (H2O), sulfur dioxide forms sulfurous acid (H2SO3), a weak acid that is a major component of acid rain.

Estimated Crustal Abundance: 3.50×102 milligrams per kilogram


Estimated Oceanic Abundance: 9.05×102 milligrams per liter

Sulfur Atomic Number

Number of Stable Isotopes: 4 (View all isotope data)

Ionization Energy: 10.360 eV

Oxidation States: +6, +4, -2

Sulfur Atomic Number Mass

Electron Shell Configuration:


2s2 2p6

3s2 3p4

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