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%.

As recorded by a NASA-funded study, oxygen has existed on the earth for approximately 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it initially came into existence in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. Although it is not clear why oxygen abruptly 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. According to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that use oxygen to breathe, referred to as cyanobacteria, use the process of photosynthesis to breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen, similar to what is done by modern-day plants. It is likely that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is a phenomenon often called the Great Oxidation Event.

The photosynthesis of cyanobacteria was probably occurring long before a prominent amount of oxygen was accumulated in the earth’s atmosphere. A report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 discovered that oxygen created from photosynthesis started 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 present on Earth today depend on oxygen, the first accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was considerably disastrous. The atmospheric change resulted in a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that could not survive in environments with oxygen started to die off.

The initial indication to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere happened in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, found that heating potassium nitrate led to the release of a gas. That gas remained unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to uncover 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 generated as a result of the reaction. Preistly published this discovery in 1774, becoming 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 faced 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 how oxygen is structured 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 gave more insight about 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 did not appear on Earth until much later than the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals appearing just around 600 million years ago. While many theorize that the existence of oxygen resulted in the existence of animals, animals were actually not existing on Earth during the first prominent rise 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 may be true that high levels of oxygen led to varied and diversified ecosystems that are around today, there are still a variety modern-day animals that are able to live in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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