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What Is Water?

Water is an odorless, tasteless, transparent liquid that appears colorless but is actually very pale blue. The color is obvious in large quantities of water such as lakes and oceans, but it can even be seen in a full bathtub. It is a single chemical compound whose molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms attached to one oxygen atom. The chemical formula of this compound is therefore H2O. The two hydrogen atoms are attached to the oxygen atom in such a way as to make an angle-shaped molecule.

The angle isn't 90°, however, but 104.5°—close to a right angle, but a little wider.

The formula H2O means that no matter how much water we are talking about, it always contains exactly twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen atoms. Considering that a hydrogen atom weighs only about one-sixteenth as much as an oxygen atom, most of the weight in water is due to oxygen: 88.8% of the weight is oxygen and 11.2% is hydrogen. That goes for everything from a single molecule to a lake.

Water can be made (synthesized) from hydrogen and oxygen, both of which are gases. When these two gases are mixed, however, they do not react unless the reaction is started with a flame or spark. Then they react with explosive violence. The tremendous energy that is released is a signal that hydrogen and oxygen are very eager to become water. Another way of saying that is that water is an extremely stable compound, compared with loose molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. It is hard to break water molecules apart into its components.

Not only that, but water molecules are stuck quite tightly to each other—at least when compared with similar compounds. The molecule-to-molecule stickiness is caused mainly by the fact that the water molecule is a dipole, because the oxygen atom pulls electrons away from the hydrogen atoms, giving the oxygen corner of the molecule a slight negative charge and the two hydrogen ends a slight positive charge. The negative part of one water molecule then attracts the positive parts of others like a magnet, although they can still slide around over each other as molecules do in any liquid. Water molecules stick to each other also by hydrogen bonds.

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