Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is sometimes 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%.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, oxygen has been present on the earth for around 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 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, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, as do modern-day plants. It is assumed that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is an occurance known as the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was assumably happening long before a noteworthy amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen generated from photosynthesis began in marine environments around 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 initial accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was considerably disastrous. The atmospheric change led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not need oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that did not have the ability to survive in environments with oxygen began to slowly to die off.

The initial indication to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere occurred in 1608, when Cornelius Drebbel, an inventor from the Netherlands, 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 at approximately the same time. 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 generated 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 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 had 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 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 helps us understand 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, animal life appeared long after the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. While many assume that the existence 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 believed that something other than the appearance of oxygen resulted in the first development in animal life. While it may be true that increasing levels of oxygen caused varied and diversified ecosystems that exist today, there are still many modern-day animals that are able to live in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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