Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is oftentimes recognized 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.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, 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 reported by the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that require oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, use the process of photosynthesis to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, as do modern-day plants. It is assumed that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is a phenomenon often called the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was assumably happening long before a significant 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 started in marine environments about 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 initial 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 could not survive in environments with oxygen began to die off.

The initial indication to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, found that heating potassium nitrate led to the release of a gas. That gas was unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to discover it at approximately the same time. Joseph Priestly, an English chemist was able to isolate oxygen by shining sunlight on mercuric oxide and then collecting the gas that was created as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, becoming the first scientist to actually publish these findings 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 faced 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, 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 team discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is relevant because it helped us learn more about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

Another group of researchers placed a heavy emphasis on finding 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. Although several assume that the presense of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not around on Earth during the first prominent 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 is possible that increasing levels of oxygen caused varied and diversified ecosystems that are existing today, there are still many modern-day animals that have the ability to survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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