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 gas of the non-metallic elements and comprises about 21% of the Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA funded a study that found that oxygen has been present 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 quickly 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 utilize oxygen to breathe, known as cyanobacteria, inhale carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen through photosynthesis, as do modern-day plants. It is probable that cyanobacteria caused the initial appearance of oxygen on Earth, which is an occurance referred to as 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 report published in the journal Nature Geoscience in 2014 discovered that oxygen produced from photosynthesis began 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 beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was to some extent ruinous. The change in the atmosphere led to a mass extinction of organisms that do not require oxygen, known as anaerobes. These anaerobes that did not have the ability to survive in environments with oxygen started to die off.

The initial indication to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere occurred 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 study it at approximately 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, which led him to be the first scientist to actually publish these discoveries 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 experienced 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 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 colleagues discovered the nuclear structure of oxygen-16. This is important because it helped us learn more about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different group 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 making an appearance just around 600 million years ago. Although many people theorize that the presense of oxygen led to the existence of animals, animals were actually not existing on Earth during the initial significant 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 have the ability to survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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