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What colour is liquid nitrogen?

Liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic liquid, meaning it has a very low boiling point of -196°C (-320°F). This makes it extremely cold and gives it some unique properties compared to liquids found at room temperature.

Quick Answers

The quick answers to what color liquid nitrogen is:

  • Liquid nitrogen is colorless when pure.
  • It looks like a clear, transparent liquid when pure.
  • Impurities can give it a blue tint or blue foggy appearance.

So in summary, pure liquid nitrogen is a colorless, clear liquid. But it often appears light blue due to impurities and the extreme cold temperatures.

Explanation of Liquid Nitrogen’s Color

Liquid nitrogen owes its colorless, transparent appearance to the diatomic nitrogen (N2) molecules it is composed of. Nitrogen gas, which makes up 78% of the air we breathe, is also colorless and transparent. When nitrogen gas is cooled down to its liquid state at -196°C, the nitrogen maintains its colorless color.

However, liquid nitrogen is rarely 100% pure. Even high purity grades contain some impurities such as argon and oxygen. Trace amounts of water are also usually present. These impurities can give liquid nitrogen a light blue tint or a foggy blue appearance.

The blue hue is partly caused by the way light absorbs and scatters through liquid nitrogen. The varying densities of the liquid nitrogen and its impurities lead to differential absorption and scattering of longer wavelength light. This gives the blue wavelength a higher probability of being scattered and transmitted. This phenomenon is known as Rayleigh scattering, which also explains why the sky appears blue as sunlight scatters through the atmosphere.

In addition, the extreme cold temperature of the liquid nitrogen contributes to the blue appearance. The cold causes condensation and freezing of the water and air surrounding the liquid nitrogen. Tiny ice crystals and fog that form refract the light and make the liquid appear bluish-white.

Examples of Liquid Nitrogen’s Color

Here are some examples that illustrate the color that liquid nitrogen typically appears:

  • When liquid nitrogen is first poured out, it will bubble and seem to evaporate into a light blue-white gas. This is the color it appears as it rapidly boils and turns into nitrogen gas.
  • As liquid nitrogen settles in a container, its color will appear more clear and colorless, but still with a light blue tint.
  • Solid nitrogen ice that forms from liquid nitrogen also appears white or transparent with a light blue cast.
  • Objects dipped into liquid nitrogen often emerge covered in a frosted layer that seems white or blue-white.

So while pure liquid nitrogen is colorless, the temperatures required to liquefy nitrogen gas lead to traces of blue color through scattering, condensation, and freezing effects.

How Impurities Change Liquid Nitrogen’s Color

The more impure the liquid nitrogen, the darker blue it will appear. Here are some of the factors that affect its color:

  • Oxygen content – Atmospheric air contains about 21% oxygen. The more oxygen that remains dissolved in liquid nitrogen, the bluer it will look.
  • Water content – Water vapor will condense and freeze to ice in the liquid nitrogen. Higher water content increases the blue tint.
  • Argon content – Argon makes up almost 1% of air. This inert gas can dissolve in liquid nitrogen, enhancing its blue appearance.
  • Oil and particulates – Oils and particles picked up from pipes and containers can disperse through the liquid and distort its color.

High purity grades of liquid nitrogen are over 99% pure. They contain less than 100 parts per million (ppm) impurities and appear almost colorless. Lower purity grades for industrial use can appear light blue.

How Lighting Affects Liquid Nitrogen’s Color

The lighting environment also impacts the visible color of liquid nitrogen. Here are some examples:

  • Under natural sunlight or full spectrum lighting, the light blue color is most apparent.
  • Under incandescent lighting, which emits less blue light, it will appear more colorless.
  • When backlit or illuminated from behind, the blue hue is exaggerated.
  • In the dark, liquid nitrogen will glow a faint blue due to chemiluminescence.

So the lighting conditions can accentuate or downplay the subtle blue tones of liquid nitrogen. Daylight and blue-rich light sources will make it look the most blue.

Color Differences in Liquid Nitrogen vs. Liquid Oxygen

Liquid oxygen provides an interesting comparison to liquid nitrogen when considering color. Although both liquids are colorless when pure, liquid oxygen appears light blue much more readily than liquid nitrogen.

This is because the boiling point of oxygen is higher than nitrogen. Liquid oxygen boils at -183°C (-297°F) compared to nitrogen’s -196°C. This means oxygen remains a liquid at higher temperatures. Closer to room temperature, oxygen more readily absorbs longer wavelength light, leading to stronger blue coloring.

In addition, liquid oxygen has a higher refractive index compared to liquid nitrogen. This results in more light scattering and radiation absorption in the blue region of the spectrum. So while both cryogenic liquids are colorless when pure, you are more likely to see liquid oxygen exhibiting a light blue tint than liquid nitrogen.


In summary, pure liquid nitrogen is colorless and transparent. But small amounts of impurities dissolved within the liquid nitrogen, as well as condensation from the extreme cold temperatures, give liquid nitrogen a light blue or blue-white appearance.

While it may seem exotic, the light blue coloration of liquid nitrogen results from common scattering and interference effects. The next time you see liquid nitrogen used in an exciting demonstration, take a closer look at its faint blue glow to better understand the science behind its color.

Some key points to remember:

  • Pure liquid nitrogen is colorless.
  • Impurities such as oxygen and water give it a light blue tint.
  • The extreme cold causes condensation and freezing that appears blue-white.
  • Lighting conditions impact how blue it looks.
  • Liquid oxygen exhibits a stronger blue color than liquid nitrogen.

Understanding what gives liquid nitrogen its characteristic blue hue provides insight into its unique properties as an ultracold cryogenic liquid.

Liquid Color Causes of Color
Liquid nitrogen Colorless or light blue Impurities, scattering effects, condensation
Liquid oxygen Light blue Higher boiling point, more scattering

This table summarizes the colors of liquid nitrogen and oxygen, and what contributes to their light blue hues.

Liquid nitrogen’s distinctive blue glow has made it popular in science demonstrations, cryotherapy, and innovative technologies. Understanding the science behind its characteristic color provides deeper insight into this state of matter not commonly seen in daily life. The next time you have the chance to see the wonders of liquid nitrogen, take a moment to ponder the spectrum of color reflecting off its surface.