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.

According to a study funded by NASA, oxygen has been here 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. While it is not entirely clear why oxygen suddenly became such an abundant 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 stated by the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe. Organisms that use oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, in the same way as modern-day plants. It is probable that cyanobacteria are the cause of the first apparition of oxygen in earth’s atmosphere, which is an occurance often called 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 finding published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 discovered that oxygen generated from photosynthesis initiated in marine environments about half a billion years ago prior to its initial atmospheric accumulation 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 somewhat disastrous. The atmospheric change led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that could not survive in environments with oxygen began to die off.

The beginning signal to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere took place in 1608, when Cornelius Drebbel, a Dutch inventor, discovered that heating potassium nitrate resulted in the release of a gas. That gas was unidentified until the 1770s, when [[three chemists began to uncover it simultaneously. 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, which led him to be 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 faced atmospheric oxygen levels of 35% and insects grew to extreme sizes.

Oxygen is created 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 how oxygen is structured 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 important because it helps us understand the process of nuclei formation in stars.

An additional set of researchers spent their time studying 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. Although several predict that the appearance of oxygen led to the existence of animals, animals were actually not present 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 resulted in the first development in animal life. While it could very well be that high levels of oxygen led to varied and diversified ecosystems that exist today, there are still several modern-day animals that have the ability to survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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