Facts About Oxygen

Oxygen, a colorless gas that is otherwise recognized 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 about 2.3-2.4 billion years, and it began to appear in our atmosphere at least 2.5 billion years ago. While experts are not completely sure why oxygen quickly became such an abundant element in the Earth’s atmosphere, but many assume that geologic changes on the earth played a large role in the process.

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, called cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, similar to what is done by modern-day plants. It is assumed that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is a phenomenon 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 report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 stated that oxygen produced from photosynthesis initiated in marine environments about 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 first accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was somewhat ruinous. The change in the atmosphere 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 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 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 through the process of 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 not enough oxygen can be harmful, 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 generated through the fusion of a carbon-12 and a helium-4 inside the hearts of stars. However, recently scientists have found 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 team discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is relevant because it gave more insight about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

An additional set of researchers placed a heavy emphasis on finding 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 being found just around 600 million years ago. Although several assume that the appearance 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 rise in animal life. While it could very well be that high levels of oxygen resulted in varied and diversified ecosystems that are present today, there are still many modern-day animals that can survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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