We all need it to breathe, but we can’t take too much of it. It makes up parts of our air, water, and even Earth itself. It drives fire and other processes important to the planet. Today’s blog article is about the element of oxygen.
It’s only a part of air.
Air is actually only 21-22 percent oxygen. The primary gas that it’s made of is nitrogen, which makes up 78 percent of air. The rest is argon, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases and elements.
It helps keep the sky blue.
The gases in the atmosphere, including oxygen, scatter the colors of sunlight as it comes in. Blue light is scattered more than the other colors because it has a shorter, smaller wavelength. This is how we end up with a blue sky on Earth.
It feeds fire.
Oxygen is part of the fire triangle, along with heat and fuel, but oxygen itself doesn’t burn. Instead it causes a chemical reaction that produces tremendous amounts of heat. This causes fuels to ignite and creates fire.
Dead zones lack it.
When a body of water experiences nutrient pollution, it causes algae to grow like mad. The algae eventually dies, sinks in the water, and decomposes with the help of bacteria. That bacteria goes absolutely nuts and eventually consumes all the oxygen in the water. This leads to a dead zone, where no fish or other wildlife can live. This process is known as eutrophication.
You can get too much of it.
We all need oxygen, but there is only a certain amount of the gas we can take. Too much oxygen can actually damage the lungs and cause them to fill with fluid. Symptoms of oxygen toxicity include coughing, chest pain, nausea, blurred vision, and even seizures.
Some infections are killed by it.
Anerobic bacteria can’t survive when exposed to oxygen. Bacteria like tetanus can’t grow within an oxygen rich environment. (But you should still get your tetanus shot because the spores can survive it.) Doctors are currently testing oxygen therapy for fighting deadly and hard to treat infections such as MRSA.
It makes up a majority of Earth’s crust.
That’s right, the planet’s crust is almost 50 percent oxygen, making it the most abundant element. Other elements you can find in the crust include silicon, aluminum, iron, calcium, hydrogen, and many more. The Earth’s anatomy is rather fascinating.
It makes up some of the colors of the aurora borealis.
As stated elsewhere in this article, the two primary gases in the atmosphere are oxygen and nitrogen. When these gases become excited by solar particles, they create the aurora borealis, a series of lights in the sky. The green and red lights are caused by charged oxygen.
There is liquid oxygen.
Oxygen in its liquid for is a pale sky blue and is actually magnetic to a degree. This form of the element is used in the aerospace and medical industries, though to list all of its uses would require an article in itself. Just don’t touch it. Like liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen is extremely cold and will burn you.
It’s responsible for giant bugs.
At least in prehistoric times. There was much more oxygen in the atmosphere at one time and insects had to grow very large to deal with the load on their systems. Some dragonflies of that era had wingspans of 2.5 feet and weighed over a pound. Imagine that buzzing around your head at the lake!
One night when I was ten years old, I stepped out of my house in Florida and saw an eerie red glow on the northern horizon. My family and I stopped to wonder just what it was and at first thought it was an explosion or fire. We eventually learned that it was the Northern Lights, which came unusually far south that night. Now I know what I was seeing that bizarre evening was high altitude oxygen in the atmosphere that was excited by the sun. Pretty cool!
Australian Academy of Science- www.science.org.au
U.C. San Diego Health- www.ucsd.edu
Science Daily- www.sciencedaily.com
Royal Museums Greenwich- www.rmg.co.uk
Chemistry Hall- www.chemistryhall.com
National Geographic- www.nationalgeographic.com
University of Nebraska-Lincoln- www.unl.edu