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Calcium is one of the most common elements on Earth, making up 4.2 percent by mass. It is present in limestone (calcium carbonate), gypsum (calcium sulfate) and fluorite (calcium fluoride). Despite its abundance, pure elemental calcium is rarely found in nature in this form; it is usually found in compounds with other elements.
Its most familiar compound is calcium carbide, CaC2, known as carbide or acetylene; it decomposes upon contact with water to produce a steady stream of the flammable gas acetylene and liquid calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2. Calcium carbide is also used for the manufacture of glass, as well as in metallurgy and in the production of some natural products such as cave stalactites and stalagmites.
The chemist Humphry Davy first synthesized elemental calcium as a metal in 1808 using electrolysis of its oxide with mercuric oxide. Today, metallic calcium is mostly produced by aluminothermic reduction of its oxide with aluminum (see Equation 2.9.43).
Calcium is a soft, silvery-white alkaline earth metal with a density of 1.55 g/cm3. It is very reactive and combines strongly with both air and water. Its most common isotopes are Ca-40 (97 percent of natural abundance), Ca-42 (2 percent) and Ca-48 (0.6 percent). Calcium ions are important messengers that assist nerves in sending messages, muscles in contracting, blood clotting and hormone signaling, according to Harvard Medical School. In the body, circulating calcium regulates blood pressure and builds strong bones and teeth. It also helps our heart beat, and carries signals between the brain and our other cells.