Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is sometimes referred to as Element Number 8 on the Periodic Table of Elements, is the most reactive gas of the non-metallic elements and comprises about 21% of the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA funded a study that found that oxygen has been present on the earth for approximately 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it initially came into existence in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While experts are not completely sure why oxygen quickly became such an abundant element in the Earth’s atmosphere, but many assume it was a result of several geologic changes that took place on Earth.

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 utilize oxygen to breathe, referred to as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, as do modern-day plants. It is assumed that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is an event referred to as the Great Oxidation Event.

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

While those living on earth today are very dependent on oxygen, the start of the accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was to some extent disastrous. The change in the atmosphere caused a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that did not have the ability to survive in environments with oxygen began to slowly to die off.

The beginning indication to humans that oxygen existed in the atmosphere occurred in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, found that heating potassium nitrate led to the release of a gas. That gas remained 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 using sunlight to shine light 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 the presence of too little oxygen can pose a threat, 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 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 oxygen’s structure by looking at its nucleus. And in March of 2014, a physicist at North Carolina State University and his team discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is significant because it helps us understand the process of nuclei formation in stars.

Another 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 appeared long after the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. While many predict that the appearance of oxygen resulted in the existence of animals, animals were actually not existing on Earth during the first notable increase 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 development in animal life. While it could very well be that increasing levels of oxygen led to varied and diversified ecosystems that exist today, there are still many modern-day animals that are able to live in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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