Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is otherwise 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.

According to a study funded by NASA, 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 it is not entirely clear why oxygen abruptly became such a significant 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, called cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, in the same way as modern-day plants. It is probable that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is a phenomenon referred to as the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was assumably happening long before a prominent amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen created from photosynthesis initiated in marine environments around 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 considerably disastrous. The change in the atmosphere led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that could not survive in environments with oxygen began to die off.

The beginning indication to humans that oxygen existed in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, 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 produced as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, which led him to be 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 experienced 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 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 important because it explains the process of nuclei formation in stars.

Another group 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 appearing just around 600 million years ago. Although several theorize that the existence of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not around on Earth during the initial significant 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 increase in animal life. While it could very well be that increasing levels of oxygen resulted in varied and diversified ecosystems that are around today, there are still several modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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