Oxygen is aspect No. 8 on the periodic Table the Elements. (Image credit: Andrei Marincas | Shutterstock)
Breathe in … breath out. Ahh. Hooray for oxygen, the aspect that keeps lot of life on earth humming.

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Element No. 8 ~ above the regular Table of the aspects is a colorless gas that renders up 21 percent that Earth"s atmosphere. Because it"s every around, oxygen is basic to dismiss as dull and also inert; in fact, it"s the most reactive of the non-metallic elements.

Earth has actually been oxygenated for about 2.3 billion to 2.4 exchange rate years, and levels began to creep increase at least 2.5 billion years ago, according to a 2007 NASA-funded study. No one knows fairly why this lung-friendly gas suddenly came to be a far-ranging part that the atmosphere, however it"s possible that geologic changes on earth led come oxygen produced by photosynthesizing organisms difficult around, rather than gift consumed in geologic reactions, follow to the research researchers.

just the Facts

Atomic Number (number of proton in the nucleus): 8Atomic price (on the routine Table that Elements): OAtomic weight (average massive of the atom): 15.9994Density: 0.001429 grams every cubic centimeterPhase in ~ Room Temperature: GasMelting Point: minus 361.82 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 218.79 degrees Celsius)Boiling Point: minus 297.31 levels F (minus 182.95 levels C)Number of isotopes (atoms the the same aspect with a different number of neutrons): 11; 3 stableMost usual isotopes: O-16 (99.757 percent herbal abundance)

Breath the life

Oxygen is the 3rd most abundant aspect in the universe, according to the cutting board Jefferson nationwide Accelerator Facility. However, that reactivity do it relatively rare in early on Earth"s atmosphere.


Photosynthesis through cyanobacteria was most likely ongoing before significant levels the oxygen accumulated in Earth"s atmosphere; a march 2014 study released in the journal Nature Geoscience uncovered that 2.95 billion-year-old rocks found in south Africa contained oxides that would have actually required cost-free oxygen come form. This rocks were originally in shallow seas, suggesting that oxygen from photosynthesis first began to accumulate in marine settings about half a exchange rate years prior to it began to accumulate in the atmosphere approximately 2.5 billion years ago.

Life now depends greatly on oxygen, yet the initial buildup of this facet in the environment was nothing short of a disaster. The brand-new atmosphere caused a mass extinction the anaerobes, which room organisms the don"t call for oxygen. Anaerobes the were unable to adapt or survive in the presence of oxygen passed away off in this new world.

Fast front — way forward. The an initial inkling humans had of the presence of oxygen together an facet was in 1608, when Dutch inventor Cornelius Drebbel reported the the heater of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) released a gas, according to the Royal culture of Chemistry (RSC). The identification of the gas continued to be a mystery until the 1770s, when three chemists converged ~ above its discovery much more or less at the exact same time. English chemist and also clergyman Joseph Priestly isolated oxygen through shining sunshine on mercuric oxide and also collecting the gas from the reaction. He noted that a candle burned more brightly in this gas, follow to the RSC, many thanks to oxygen"s role in combustion.


Priestly released his findings in 1774, beating the end Swiss scientist Carl Wilhelm Steele, who had actually diverted oxygen in 1771 and also written about it, yet not released the work. Oxygen"s 3rd discoverer was Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, a French chemist who offered the element its name. The word originates from the Greek "oxy" and also "genes," an interpretation "acid-forming."

Oxygen has actually eight total electrons — 2 orbit the cell nucleus in the atom"s within shell and six orbit in the outermost shell. The outermost shell can hold a complete of eight electrons, which defines oxygen"s propensity to react with other elements: Its external shell is incomplete, and also electrons are thus cost-free for the taking (and giving).

that knew?

As a gas, oxygen is clear. Yet as a liquid, it"s pale blue.

current research

Oxygen develops in the understanding of stars, through the blend of a carbon-12 nucleus and a helium-4 cell nucleus (also known as an alpha particle). It"s just recently, however, that scientists have been able to peer into the cell nucleus of oxygen and unravel its structure.

In in march 2014, north Carolina State college physicist Dean Lee and his colleagues reported the they"d identified the nuclear structure of oxygen-16, the most common isotope that oxygen, in its ground state (the state in ~ which every electrons room at the lowest possible energy levels) and also in its very first excited state (the next power level up).

Why need to such a point matter? Well, to understand exactly how nuclei type in stars — indigenous carbon to oxygen to heavier facets — is to understand just how the really building block of the cosmos snap together. Lee and his team originally found that the nucleus of a carbon-12 molecule, through its 6 protons and also six neutrons, is in reality made that three fragment clusters, each with two protons and two neutrons. If carbon-12 had actually three of these so-called alpha clusters, the researcher reasoned, oxygen-16 was likely to have actually four, offered that it has actually eight protons and eight neutrons.

Using supercomputer simulations and a number lattice, the researchers were able to see exactly how the particles in an oxygen-16 nucleus would certainly arrange themselves. They uncovered that in the ground state the oxygen-16, there space indeed 4 alpha clusters, arranged neatly in a tetrahedron.

"These alpha clusters are kind of like little fuzzy spheres the these four particles, or this nucleons, and also these fuzzy spheres choose to touch each other by some surface interaction," Lee called Live Science. The tetrahedron configuration enables them to get nice and snug.

But over there was one more quantum secret waiting to be unraveled. The ground state that oxygen-16 and also the an initial excited state re-publishing an unexplained feature. Castle both have actually the exact same spin — a worth indicating exactly how the corpuscle rotate. They also both have actually positive parity, a way to indicate symmetry. Imagine inverting left and right in the entire universe, yet having to keep subatomic particles in the very same shape. Corpuscle with confident parity would have the ability to look in this winter universe and also see themselves together they are. Corpuscle with an unfavorable parity would need to flip-flop, lest they finish up backwards prefer a heat of text read in a mirror.

"The mystery was why the lowest two states of oxygen-16 have zero spin and positive parity," Lee said, provided that the states are different.

The simulations gave an answer: In the excited state, oxygen-16 rearranges the nucleus come look little like the soil state at all. Instead of a tetrahedral arrangement, the alpha particles arrange themselves in a square or near-square plane.

"Their basic intrinsic structures were different," Lee said. The entirely different configuration explains how spin and also parity can remain the same — the nuclei take different paths come the exact same result.

There room still much more quantum interactions in the oxygen-16 nucleus come detangle, Lee said, and also finer-grained detail to discover.

"There room actually rather a lot of of exciting things going inside of tiny things like nuclei," he said. "And there space stories that room being told around how they space being made that we are now starting to have the ability to address."

Lee"s occupational looks come oxygen"s birth in the stars; one more line of oxygen research focuses on the element"s duty in life on Earth. Shortly after the good Oxidation event some 2.4 billion year ago, oxygen level may have reached or gone beyond today"s levels before crashing, said Daniel Mills, a doctoral candidate in ~ the Nordic center for planet Evolution in ~ the university of southern Denmark. Animal life didn"t display up until far later, through the simplest pets appearing approximately 600 million years ago.

Despite theories that the climb of oxygen paved the means for the existence of animals, the story shows up to it is in far an ext complex. Animals did not show up during the first significant bump in Earth"s oxygen level 2.4 billion years ago. And in February 2014, Mills and his colleagues reported in the newspaper PNAS that modern-day sponges deserve to still breathe, eat and also even grow in oxygen level 0.5 percent to 4 percent the what is discovered in Earth"s environment today. Sponges space the most likely the most similar living pet to the an initial animals top top Earth, Mills said Live Science.

The finding the sponges don"t need high oxygen to live argues that miscellaneous else contributed to the climb of the very first animal life — though climbing oxygen might well have actually been crucial to with the kind of diversity and ecosystems we check out today, Mills said. Also in the contemporary era, pets such together nematode worms flourish in low-oxygen locations of the ocean, that added.

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"There is clearly more to pet evolution 보다 an ample supply of oxygen," Mills said.