Iron for Kids - what is iron made of? where does iron come from? what do we use iron for?
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Iron

Iron atom
Diagram of an iron atom

When a red giant star has changed all of its helium into carbon and oxygen, it then begins to turn the carbon and oxygen atoms into iron atoms. Iron is the heaviest kind of atom that a star can make, so when a star has made most of its carbon and oxygen into iron, it becomes a supernova and explodes.

When the supernova explodes, it shoots out carbon, oxygen, and iron atoms all over the Universe, and eventually gravity sucks these atoms into new planets like Earth. All of the iron on Earth was originally inside stars.

Iron meteorite
An iron meteorite

Unlike other atoms, iron can become magnetic. This happens because iron atoms have more of a tendency to line up all facing the same way than other atoms do.

The Earth's core is probably mostly made of iron, while Earth's crust (the top layer that we live on) is about ten percent iron.

All living things - both plants and animals - also contain iron. Plants use iron to help them pull energy from sunlight through their leaves, and animals (including people) use iron to move oxygen through their bodies and bring energy to their cells. Because iron has only two electrons in its outermost ring, those two lonely electrons join up easily with oxygen atoms.

Iron looks black to us when it is on its own, and it looks red to us when it joins up with oxygen. That's why blood looks red (it has iron and oxygen in it), and it's also why rusty iron looks red (the rust is iron that has combined with oxygen from the air or water). And that's the way Greek black-figure and red-figure vase painting works.

Learn by doing - Iron
Another project with iron
Chemical reactions using iron
History of iron and steel

To find out more about atoms, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:

Hydrogen
Helium
Carbon
Oxygen
Molecules
Metals
Electricity
Chemistry
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Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.
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