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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.
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Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.

Nitric Acid - HNO3

Nitric acid is a very strong kind of acid. If you got some on your skin, it would burn you! Nitric acid has nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms in it.

Earth's atmosphere has a very, very tiny bit of nitric acid gas in it. Clean air has almost no nitric acid in it. Polluted air has more nitric acid. Cars and trucks make chemicals called nitrogen oxides when they burn their fuel. Nitrogen oxides mix with water vapor in the air. The mixture turns into nitric acid.

Nitric acid is one kind of acid in acid rain. Acid rain damages leaves on trees. It also hurts fish when it falls in ponds.

People use nitric acid for lots of things. It is used to make fertilizer. Farmers put fertilizer on their crops because they help plants grow. Nitric acid is also used to make explosives, like nitroglycerin and TNT. It is also used to make patterns and designs on glass and metal, including jewelry. Nitric acid is used in some kinds of rockets to make the fuel burn.

Last modified February 2, 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