Shop Windows to the Universe

With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
Here are four different ways that chemists use to show a molecule of nitric acid. In the colored molecule models, nitrogen is blue, oxygen is red, and hydrogen is white.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.

Nitric Acid - HNO3

Nitric acid is a very strong acid that can burn your skin. Nitric acid has nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms in it. There is a very tiny bit of nitric acid gas in Earth's atmosphere.

Nitric acid is one of the acids in acid rain. Polluted air has much more nitric acid in it than clean air. Car and truck engines make chemicals called nitrogen oxides when they burn their fuel. When nitrogen oxides mix with water vapor in the air, they turn into nitric acid. This nitric acid falls from the sky as acid rain.

People use nitric acid for lots of things. It is used to make fertilizer. It is also used to make explosives, like nitroglycerin and TNT. The acid is used to make patterns and designs on glass and metal, including jewelry. Nitric acid is also used in some types of liquid fueled rockets!

Last modified February 2, 2006 by Randy Russell.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Nitrogen

There is more nitrogen gas in the air than any other kind of gas. About 4/5ths of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen gas! A molecule of nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms. There are other molecules...more

Oxygen

Oxygen (O2) is a kind of gas. A lot of the air you breathe is oxygen. That's a good thing, since we need oxygen to stay alive! About 4/5ths of the air in Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen (N2). Almost all...more

Acid Rain

Acid rain is a general term used to describe different kinds of acidic air pollution. Although some acidic air pollutants return directly back to Earth, a lot of it returns in rain, snow, sleet, hail,...more

Air Pollution

What do smog, acid rain, carbon monoxide, fossil fuel exhausts, and tropospheric ozone have in common? They are all examples of air pollution. Air pollution is not new. As far back as the 13 th century,...more

Air Pollution Sources

Air pollution comes from many different sources. Natural processes that affect air quality include volcanoes, which produce sulfur, chlorine, and ash particulates. Wildfires produce smoke and carbon monoxide....more

Air Pollution and Water

Have you heard about rivers, lakes, or streams becoming polluted? Sometimes the pollution comes from trash, oil spills, sewage, fertilizers, or chemicals. However, sometimes the source of water pollution...more

Atmospheric Chemistry of Earth's Troposphere

When you think of chemistry, do you think about mixing colored liquids in test tubes and maybe making an explosion... or at least a nice puff of smoke? Did you know that a lot of chemistry happens in Earth's...more

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