A promethium atom has 61 electrons, arranged in the configuration [Xe]4f56s2. In forming compounds, the atom loses its two outermost electrons and one of the 4f-electrons, which belongs to an open subshell. The element's atomic radius is the second largest among all the lanthanides but is only slightly greater than those of the neighboring elements. It is the most notable exception to the general trend of the contraction of lanthanide atoms with the increase of their atomic numbers (see lanthanide contraction). Many properties of promethium rely on its position among lanthanides and are intermediate between those of neodymium and samarium. For example, the melting point, the first three ionization energies, and the hydration energy are greater than those of neodymium and lower than those of samarium; similarly, the estimate for the boiling point, ionic (Pm3+) radius, and standard heat of formation of monatomic gas are greater than those of samarium and less than those of neodymium.
Promethium has a double hexagonal close packed (dhcp) structure and a hardness of 63 kg/mm2. This low-temperature alpha form converts into a beta, body-centered cubic (bcc) phase upon heating to 890 °C.
Chemical properties and compounds
Promethium belongs to the cerium group of lanthanides and is chemically very similar to the neighboring elements. Because of its instability, chemical studies of promethium are incomplete. Even though a few compounds have been synthesized, they are not fully studied; in general, they tend to be pink or red in color. Treatment of acidic solutions containing Pm3+ ions with ammonia results in a gelatinous light-brown sediment of hydroxide, Pm(OH)3, which is insoluble in water. When dissolved in hydrochloric acid, a water-soluble yellow salt, PmCl3, is produced; similarly, when dissolved in nitric acid, a nitrate results, Pm(NO3)3. The latter is also well-soluble; when dried, it forms pink crystals, similar to Nd(NO3)3. The electron configuration for Pm3+ is [Xe] 4f4, and the color of the ion is pink. The ground state term symbol is 5I4. The sulfate is slightly soluble, like the other cerium group sulfates. Cell parameters have been calculated for its octahydrate; they lead to conclusion that the density of Pm2(SO4)3·8 H2O is 2.86 g/cm3. The oxalate, Pm2(C2O4)3·10 H2O, has the lowest solubility of all lanthanide oxalates.
Unlike the nitrate, the oxide is similar to the corresponding samarium salt and not the neodymium salt. As-synthesized, e.g. by heating the oxalate, it is a white or lavender-colored powder with disordered structure. This powder crystallizes in a cubic lattice upon heating to 600 °C. Further annealing at 800 °C and then at 1750 °C irreversibly transforms it to a monoclinic and hexagonal phases, respectively, and the last two phases can be interconverted by adjusting the annealing time and temperature.
Promethium forms only one stable oxidation state, +3, in the form of ions; this is in line with other lanthanides. According to its position in the periodic table, the element cannot be expected to form stable +4 or +2 oxidation states; treating chemical compounds containing Pm3+ ions with strong oxidizing or reducing agents showed that the ion is not easily oxidized or reduced.
Promethium is the only lanthanide and one of only two elements among the first 83 that has no stable or long-lived (primordial) isotopes. This is a result of a rarely occurring effect of the liquid drop model and stabilities of neighbor element isotopes; it is also the least stable element of the first 84. The primary decay products are neodymium and samarium isotopes (promethium-146 decays to both, the lighter isotopes generally to neodymium via positron decay and electron capture, and the heavier isotopes to samarium via beta decay). Promethium nuclear isomers may decay to other promethium isotopes and one isotope (145Pm) has a very rare alpha decay mode to stable praseodymium-141.
The most stable isotope of the element is promethium-145, which has a specific activity of 940 Ci/g (35 TBq/g) and a half-life of 17.7 years via electron capture. Because it has 84 neutrons (two more than 82, which is a magic number which corresponds to a stable neutron configuration), it may emit an alpha particle (which has 2 neutrons) to form praseodymium-141 with 82 neutrons. Thus it is the only promethium isotope with an experimentally observed alpha decay. Its partial half-life for alpha decay is about 6.3×109 years, and the relative probability for a 145Pm nucleus to decay in this way is 2.8×10−7 %. Several other promethium isotopes such as 144Pm, 146Pm, and 147Pm also have a positive energy release for alpha decay; their alpha decays are predicted to occur but have not been observed.
The element also has 18 nuclear isomers, with mass numbers of 133 to 142, 144, 148, 149, 152, and 154 (some mass numbers have more than one isomer). The most stable of them is promethium-148m, with a half-life of 43.1 days; this is longer than the half-lives of the ground states of all promethium isotopes, except for promethium-143 to 147. In fact, promethium-148m has a longer half-life than its ground state, promethium-148.