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 gas of the non-metallic elements and comprises about 21% of the Earth’s atmosphere.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, oxygen has existed on the earth for approximately 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it first appeared in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. Although it is not clear why oxygen suddenly 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. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that need oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, as do modern-day plants. It is probable that cyanobacteria are responsible for oxygen first appearing in the atmosphere, which is an occurance known as 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 report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen produced from photosynthesis initiated in marine environments approximately half a billion years ago prior to it beginning to accumulate in the atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago.

While the organisms on modern-day Earth rely heavily on oxygen, the start of the accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was to some extent detrimental. The atmospheric change 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 initial evidence to humans that oxygen was in the atmosphere took place in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, came to the conclusion that heating potassium nitrate caused the release of a gas. That gas remained 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 through the process of 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, 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 not enough oxygen can be harmful, 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 produced 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 group discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is relevant because it helped us learn more about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

An additional 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 did not appear on Earth until much later than the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. Although several assume that the presense of oxygen resulted in the existence of animals, animals were actually not around on Earth during the first prominent appearance 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 led to the first development in animal life. While it may be true that rising levels of oxygen led to varied and diversified ecosystems that exist today, there are still several modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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