Is Methane Nonpolar?

Storage tanks at a biogas plant.
••• scalatore1959/iStock/Getty Images

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a nonpolar molecule. In it, four hydrogen atoms surround a single carbon in a three-dimensional arrangement shaped like a four-sided pyramid. The symmetry of the hydrogens on the corners of the pyramid evenly distribute electric charge on the molecule, making it nonpolar.

Polar vs. Nonpolar Molecules

Molecules can be classified as polar or nonpolar. On a polar molecule, one side or area has more negative electric charge, making the opposite side positive. By contrast, a nonpolar molecule has a fairly uniform charge on its outside surface, making no side more negative or positive than another. Both the shape of the molecule and the type of bonds between atoms determine whether it’s polar or not.

Effects of Polarity

On a polar molecule, the positive side attracts the negative side of a neighboring molecule, so that polar molecules clump together in small groups. For example, water, a polar molecule, forms snowflake crystals when it freezes. Polar molecules also absorb microwave radiation. That's why you can heat water in a microwave oven, whereas nonpolar molecules such as methane are typically transparent to microwaves.

Related Articles

What Happens to Ionic & Covalent Compounds When They...
Chemical Formula for Propane
Three Ways That Polarity of Water Molecules Affect...
Intermolecular Forces in the Structure of Propane
Why Are Lipids Insoluble in Water?
How to Determine if a Molecule Is Planar
Is Grease Dissolving in Soapy Water a Physical or Chemical...
How Do Polar Molecules Form Hydrogen Bonds?
Why Does Styrofoam Dissolve in Turpentine?
Differences Between Polar & Nonpolar in Chemistry
The Formation of Hydrogen Bonds
What Dissolves Oil?
What is a Polar Molecule?
Test Your Knowledge on Middle School Science
What Intermolecular Forces are Present in Water?
The Effects of Water's Polarity on Living Things
What is Glucose Made Of?
What Elements Make Up the Compound Carbon Dioxide?
What Are the Elements of Uranus?