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Shown here are four representations chemists use for ammonia. In the colored models, nitrogen is blue and hydrogen is white.
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Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.

Ammonia - NH3

Ammonia is a chemical compound that is a colorless, flammable gas at normal temperatures and pressures. Ammonia is toxic, corrosive to some materials, and has a pungent odor. An ammonia molecule (NH3) contains three hydrogen atoms and one nitrogen atom.

Humans use ammonia in great quantities. We manufacture more atoms of ammonia each year than any other industrial chemical. Ammonia is used extensively in the production of chemical fertilizers. It is also used to make explosives, nylon, and pharmaceuticals. Ammonia is also used as a cleaner, including in household window glass-cleaning products. Ammonia is also used as a "feedstock" when making nitric acid.

Ammonia is found in small quantities in Earth's atmosphere. It is produced by the decay of animal and vegetable matter that contains nitrogen.

Nitrogen-fixing microbes convert nitrogen in the air into ammonia in the soil as part of the Nitrogen Cycle. This makes the nitrogen, a key ingredient in the chemistry of life, available to plants and other organisms.

Ammonia sometimes also plays a role in removing acids from Earth's atmosphere. Ammonia reacts with nitric acid and sulfuric acid to form particulate or aerosol nitrate and sulfate, removing the acids from the atmosphere within a few days of the acids' creation.

Last modified February 8, 2006 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA