We know that both solids and liquids can exhibit metallic luster. I wonder whether there is a gas that when filling a transparent envelope (such as a glass tube) would make it appear with metallic luster?

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    $\begingroup$ You certainly have big imagination :) $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ I thought that metallic luster should require coherent reflection of light, which itself should require a substance which is (quasi-)regular/periodic/ordered at least at a scale a bit larger than a few atoms. A gas is none of these. However, glass can reflect some light quite well without having a crystalline structure, so that complicates my argument. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ One other thing that came to mind is that gasses are much more sparse than solids or liquids; there's so much space between atoms in the average gas that light should often permeate the interior without coming close to more than a handful of atoms simultaneously. So you're basically asking a few completely uncorrelated atoms to reflect visible light, with wavelength over 100 times their dimension, coherently. Sounds like an extremely tough proposition. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Nicolau Saker Neto what about a metal in supercritical state? $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Supercritical fluids can have arbitrarily close similarity to a gas or a liquid, so it would probably work, given that liquid metals have metallic luster (I don't know why I hadn't thought of liquid metals in my previous comments...). However, I think you'd have to be quite far from the gaseous region of a state diagram for a supercritical fluid to develop lustre, so it would be unwise to call it a gas. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 11:59

3 Answers 3


Good question... would a plasma qualify? Metallic luster is due to a sea of electrons, free to move and to reflect (well, re-radiate) incident radiation. A plasma can be created in a gas, such as the interstellar medium, or in Earth's atmosphere. The Kennelly-Heaviside layer is such a "shiny", reflective layer, causing skip signal propagation to extend the range of radio communication. So if you saw in radio wavelenghts, rather than the visual spectrum, plasma is shiny!

Another possibility would be a Bose-Einstein condensate... but the act of illuminating it tends to destroy it.

  • $\begingroup$ What about supercritical metal such as mercury? $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 9:24

Luster is an optical property of minerals, and a mineral is defined as a solid inorganic substance that occurs naturally (that includes metals, of course). The Mineralogic Society of America defines metallic luster (see link) as something that occurs in minerals which have a refractive index greater than 3.

I wasn't able to find any gases with a refractive index even close to the cutoff value. I'd say the answer is no, and that what might appear to be luster is instead scattering of incident light (not refraction).


Not an answer to your question ... but This may interest you! (Or your curiosity)

Metallic Gas : http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-11/researchers-turn-hydrogen-gas-metal

Magnetic Gas : http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-09/scientists-create-first-ever-magnetic-gas

As for your question : I guess not! The colours of gases are caused by selective absorption of light so that the light coming through the gas is coloured - it is not light reflected from the gas.

Reflection occurs when light passes from an optically dense medium to an optically less dense medium, or vice versa. In other words, there has to be a change in the optical properties of a gas to cause reflection. The gas molecules individually are to small to significantly effect the photons of light.

  • $\begingroup$ Read this : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflection_(physics) $\endgroup$
    – NeilRoy
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ There is no clear border between liquids and gases at high pressures/temperatures so it shoud be possible to continuously transform gaseous mercury into liquid mercury which has the luster. $\endgroup$
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ Hydrogen cannot simultaneously be a metal and a gas. By the application of enormous pressure, gaseous non-metallic hydrogen turns either into a solid or a liquid metal, and possibly a supercritical fluid metal. However, in the gaseous phase of a pressure-temperature diagram and its surrounding regions past the critical point, metallic bonding will always be lost, as metals require clusters of atoms in close proximity to interact, and gasses are by definition a phase where intermolecular attraction is subdued. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Anixx Yes, but then you're dealing with supercritical mercury, which regardless of its properties seems to me to go against the spirit of your original question. SC $\ce{Hg}$ would not fill the tube like a gas... first, it would settle to the bottom like a liquid; second, it would melt/explode the tube! ($T_c=1478\ ^\circ\mathrm{C}$, $P_c=1673\mathrm{\ bar}$). $\endgroup$
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 11:18

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