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When ions are separated by large distances, as they are in the gas phase, there is attraction between them (potential energy). As the ions get closer together, this attraction lessens. Therefore, there is a net lowering of energy, and when ions get close enough together to form a solid, energy is released. This energy release is the lattice energy.
Lattice energy is the energy stored in the bonds of an ionic solid, such as NaCl. This energy is released when Na and Cl come together. This energy is much greater than the energy needed to strip electron off of Na, when shows why NaCl has a lower energy than Na or Cl.
Ionic bonds form crystalline lattices in their solid form. Forming bonds releases energy (they become more stable). If a molecule has ionic bonds (cation and anion) and is in the gas phase, the amount of energy released as it condenses into a solid is called lattice energy.
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