Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is sometimes referred to 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 present on the earth for around 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it initially came into existence in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While it is not entirely clear why oxygen quickly became such an abundant 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. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that utilize oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, as do modern-day plants. It is likely that cyanobacteria are responsible for oxygen first appearing in the atmosphere, which is an occurance often called the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was probably occurring long before a prominent amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A finding published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 claimed that oxygen created from photosynthesis initiated in marine environments approximately half a billion years ago prior to its initial atmospheric accumulation about 2.5 billion years ago.

While those present on Earth today depend on oxygen, the first accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was considerably disastrous. The change in the atmosphere resulted in a mass extinction of organisms that do not need oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that were unable to survive in environments with oxygen began to slowly to die off.

The initial evidence to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when Cornelius Drebbel, an inventor from the Netherlands, discovered that heating potassium nitrate resulted in the release of a gas. That gas remained unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to study it at approximately the same time. 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 not enough oxygen can be harmful, so can the presence of too much oxygen. For example, around 300 million years ago, the earth faced 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 found 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 important because it explains the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different team of researchers placed their focus on oxygen’s role in life on Earth. According to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, animals on Earth did not begin to appear until long after the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals appearing just around 600 million years ago. While many assume that the appearance of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not present on Earth during the first notable rise of oxygen levels in the atmosphere. [[On the contrary|Contrarily|On the other hand], it is probably that that something other than the appearance of oxygen resulted in the first increase in animal life. While it could very well be that high levels of oxygen caused varied and diversified ecosystems that exist today, there are still a variety modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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