Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is likewise known as Element Number 8 on the Periodic Table of Elements, makes up about 21% of the earth’s atmosphere and is considered the most reactive gas out of the non-metallic elements.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, oxygen has been here on the earth for approximately 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it first appeared in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While it is not entirely clear why oxygen abruptly became such a significant element in the Earth’s atmosphere, but many assume that geologic changes on the earth played a large role in the process.

Oxygen has the atomic number 8, the atomic symbol O, and an atomic weight of 15.9994. As stated by the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that use oxygen to breathe, referred to as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, in the same way as modern-day plants. It is assumed that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is an occurance known as the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was assumably happening long before a prominent amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen produced from photosynthesis began in marine environments around half a billion years ago prior to its initial atmospheric accumulation about 2.5 billion years ago.

While those living on earth today are very dependent on oxygen, the beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was somewhat ruinous. The change in the atmosphere led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not live off of oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that were unable to survive in environments with oxygen began to die off.

The beginning signal to humans that oxygen existed in the atmosphere took place in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, discovered that heating potassium nitrate resulted in the release of a gas. That gas went unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to discover it around the same time. Joseph Priestly, an English chemist was able to isolate oxygen by shining sunlight on mercuric oxide and then collecting the gas that was generated as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, making him the first scientist to actually publish these discoveries about oxygen. Oxygen was given its name from the Greek words “oxy” nucleus and “genes,” which together mean “acid-forming.”

While not enough oxygen can be harmful, so can the presence of too much oxygen. For example, around 300 million years ago, the earth had atmospheric oxygen levels of 35% and insects grew to extreme sizes.

Oxygen is created through the fusion of a carbon-12 and a helium-4 inside the hearts of stars. However, recently, scientists have gained the ability to study the how oxygen is structured by looking at its nucleus. And in March of 2014, a physicist at North Carolina State University and his group discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is significant because it explains the process of nuclei formation in stars.

An additional group of researchers spent their time studying oxygen’s role in life on Earth. According to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, animal life appeared long after the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals appearing just around 600 million years ago. While many theorize that the appearance of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not existing on Earth during the first notable rise of oxygen levels in the atmosphere. [[On the contrary|Contrarily|On the other hand], it is believed that something other than the appearance of oxygen resulted in the first rise in animal life. While it could very well be that increasing levels of oxygen resulted in varied and diversified ecosystems that are present today, there are still several modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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