In tonight's session of a science fiction role-playing game, I used a white phosphorous grenade against a group of ammonia-breathing aliens on their home turf, and I must confess that neither the GM nor I thought to think about whether the stuff is actually effective in that kind of atmosphere.

I've heard it does burn in water. So, does it actually burn in ammonia?

  • $\begingroup$ Probably belongs more on the eventual Chemistry.SE but that isn't yet an option. $\endgroup$
    – DampeS8N
    Sep 25, 2011 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ That's right; this is a pure chemistry question and is therefore off topic here. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Sep 25, 2011 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ @David Zaslavsky: We should try to remember to migrate this when the Chemistry site enters beta. I'm glad to see it did get an answer, though. Never would have on SFF. $\endgroup$
    – DampeS8N
    Sep 25, 2011 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DampeS8N - I had this answer 2/3 typed on SFF before it was migrated here, so it would have had an answer there. (Not sure that one could have predicted this, but I'm also not sure one could predict that it would get an answer on physics.) $\endgroup$
    – Rex Kerr
    Sep 25, 2011 at 13:20

1 Answer 1


White phosphorus requires oxygen to burn. With oxygen, it will form an intermediate that can also react with water (to produce phosphoric acid). Ammonia also does not react with white phosphorus; in fact, it is used as a solvent for phosphorus-metal chemistry.


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