Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is sometimes known 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 here on the earth for about 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it began to appear in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While it is not entirely clear why oxygen abruptly 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, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, in the same way as modern-day plants. It is probable that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is an occurance referred to as the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was probably occurring long before a noteworthy amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A finding published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen produced from photosynthesis started in marine environments about half a billion years ago prior to it beginning to accumulate in the atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago.

While those present on Earth today depend on oxygen, the beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was considerably disastrous. The atmospheric change resulted in 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 slowly to die off.

The initial evidence to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere occurred in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, discovered that heating potassium nitrate resulted in the release of a gas. That gas was unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to discover it simultaneously. 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 created 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 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 experienced atmospheric oxygen levels of 35% and insects grew to extreme sizes.

Oxygen is produced 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 structure of oxygen 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 explains the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different set 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 making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. Although several predict that the appearance of oxygen led to the existence of animals, animals were actually not existing on Earth during the first prominent increase 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 rise in animal life. While it could very well be that increasing levels of oxygen resulted in varied and diversified ecosystems that are existing today, there are still a variety modern-day animals that are able to live in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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