Phosphorus exhibits allotropy (i.e., it has multiple forms in the same physical state); the physical constants given above are for the common white phosphorus. White phosphorus is an extremely poisonous, yellow to white, waxy, solid substance, nearly insoluble in water but very soluble in carbon disulfide. When exposed to air it ignites spontaneously, burning to form white fumes of phosphorus pentoxide, P2O5. Because of its toxicity and pyrophoric nature, phosphorus is stored underwater. Contact with the skin may cause burns. White phosphorus is phosphorescent (i.e., glows without emitting heat).
When white phosphorus is heated to about 250°C in the absence of air, it changes into the more stable red phosphorus. This form appears as dull, reddish-brown cubic crystals or amorphous powder. Its specific gravity is 2.34. The red form is less dangerous than the white form, but should be handled with caution. It is insoluble in carbon disulfide and most other solvents. It does not ignite unless heated to about 200°C, does not phosphoresce, and is not poisonous. Another form of phosphorus is black phosphorus, a crystalline electrically conductive material similar to graphite in appearance. It was first prepared by P. W. Bridgman by heating white phosphorus to 200°C under a pressure of 12,000 atmospheres. Its specific gravity is 2.70.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.