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 out of the non-metallic elements and exists at atmospheric levels at about 21%.

NASA funded a study that found that oxygen has been present 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. While experts are not completely sure why oxygen suddenly 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 need 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 assumed that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is an event often called the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was most likely taking place 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 approximately half a billion years ago prior to its initial atmospheric accumulation about 2.5 billion years ago.

While those living on earth today are very dependent on oxygen, the first accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was somewhat disastrous. The change in the atmosphere caused a mass extinction of organisms that do not live off of oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that did not have the ability to survive in environments with oxygen started to die off.

The primary evidence to humans that oxygen was in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when Cornelius Drebbel, an inventor from the Netherlands, discovered that heating potassium nitrate resulted in the release of a gas. That gas was unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to study it around 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 produced as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, making him 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 too little oxygen can be dangerous, 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, 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 group discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is significant because it explains the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different 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 being found just around 600 million years ago. Although many people predict that the presense of oxygen resulted in 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 caused 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 present 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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