Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is likewise known 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%.

According to a study funded by NASA, oxygen has been present on the earth for approximately 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it began to appear in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While it is not entirely clear why oxygen suddenly became such a significant 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 require oxygen to breathe, called cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, in the same way as modern-day plants. It is assumed 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 significant amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 claimed that oxygen created from photosynthesis started in marine environments around 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 beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was somewhat disastrous. The atmospheric change led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not live off of oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that could not survive in environments with oxygen started to die off.

The beginning evidence to humans that oxygen existed in the atmosphere occurred in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, found that heating potassium nitrate led to the release of a gas. That gas went unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to discover 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 created as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, making him 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 not enough oxygen can be harmful, 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 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 oxygen’s structure 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 significant because it gave more insight about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

An additional team 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 making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. Although several assume that the existence of oxygen led to 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 increase in animal life. While it is possible that rising levels of oxygen caused varied and diversified ecosystems that are around today, there are still a variety modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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