Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is sometimes recognized 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.

According to a study funded by NASA, oxygen has been here on the earth for around 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it first appeared in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While experts are not completely sure why oxygen abruptly became such a significant element in the Earth’s atmosphere, but many assume it was largely due to geologic changes on Earth.

Oxygen has the atomic number 8, the atomic symbol O, and an atomic weight of 15.9994. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that utilize oxygen to breathe, called cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, similar to what is done by modern-day plants. It is likely that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is an occurance referred to as the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was most likely taking place long before a noteworthy amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A finding published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 discovered that oxygen generated from photosynthesis started in marine environments around half a billion years ago prior to the start of its accumulation in the atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago.

While the organisms on modern-day Earth rely heavily on oxygen, the beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was somewhat disastrous. The change in the atmosphere caused a mass extinction of organisms that do not live off of oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that did not have the ability to survive in environments with oxygen began to die off.

The initial signal to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when Cornelius Drebbel, an inventor from the Netherlands, came to the conclusion that heating potassium nitrate caused the release of a gas. That gas remained unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to study it simultaneously. Joseph Priestly, an English chemist was able to isolate oxygen through the process of 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, which led him to be the first scientist to actually publish these oxygen-related findings. Oxygen was given its name from the Greek words “oxy” nucleus and “genes,” which together mean “acid-forming.”

While too little oxygen can be dangerous, so can the presence of too much oxygen. For example, around 300 million years ago, the earth experienced atmospheric oxygen levels of 35% and insects grew to extreme sizes.

Oxygen is formed 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 helps us understand the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different team of researchers placed a heavy emphasis on finding oxygen’s role in life on Earth. According to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, animal life did not appear on Earth until much later than the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals appearing just around 600 million years ago. Although several predict that the appearance of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not present on Earth during the first prominent increase of oxygen levels in the atmosphere. [[On the contrary|Contrarily|On the other hand], it is most commonly believed that something other than the appearance of oxygen caused the first development in animal life. While it is possible that rising levels of oxygen resulted in varied and diversified ecosystems that are existing today, there are still several modern-day animals that have the ability to survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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