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%.

According to a study funded by NASA, oxygen has existed on the earth for approximately 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 quickly became such a prominent 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 reported 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 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 often called 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 discovered that oxygen produced from photosynthesis began 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 beginning accumulation of this element in the atmosphere was to some extent ruinous. 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 began to slowly to die off.

The beginning indication to humans that oxygen was present in the atmosphere took place in 1608, when a Dutch inventor named Cornelius Drebbel, came to the conclusion that heating potassium nitrate caused the release of a gas. That gas remained 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 created 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 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 produced 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 significant because it gave more insight about the process of nuclei formation in stars.

A different group of researchers spent their time studying oxygen’s role in life on Earth. According to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark, animals on Earth did not begin to appear until long after the Great Oxidation Event, with simple animals appearing just around 600 million years ago. While many theorize that the existence of oxygen caused the existence of animals, animals were actually not around on Earth during the first notable appearance 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 rise in animal life. While it may be true that high levels of oxygen led to varied and diversified ecosystems that are present today, there are still a variety modern-day animals that have the ability to survive in extremely low-oxygen areas in the ocean.

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