Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is likewise recognized as Element Number 8 on the Periodic Table of Elements, is the most reactive out of the non-metallic elements and exists at atmospheric levels at about 21%.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, oxygen has existed on the earth for about 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 suddenly became such an abundant 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. As reported by the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that use oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, use the process of photosynthesis to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, in the same way as 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 often called the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was most likely taking place long before a prominent amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 claimed that oxygen produced from photosynthesis initiated 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 the organisms on modern-day Earth rely heavily on oxygen, the beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was considerably disastrous. The change in the atmosphere caused a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that were unable to survive in environments with oxygen started to die off.

The beginning evidence to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere took place 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 was unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to study 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 produced 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 too little oxygen can be dangerous, 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, scientists have recently been able to 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 colleagues discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is important because it helps us understand the process of nuclei formation in stars.

Another group 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 theorize that the appearance of oxygen resulted in the existence of animals, animals were actually not around on Earth during the initial significant rise 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 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 can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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