Here are 11 interesting facts about oxygen, abundant not only in our planet’s atmosphere, but also one of the most abundant elements in the universe. You can find out much more on our main oxygen page.
1. Dry air is 21 percent oxygen, 78 percent nitrogen and 1 percent other gases.
2. Oxygen does not burn – honestly! It does, however, support the combustion of other substances. Think about it — if oxygen itself actually burnt, striking a match would be enough to burn all of the oxygen in our planet’s atmosphere.
3. Oxygen is about two times more soluble in water than nitrogen is. If it had the same solubility as nitrogen, much less oxygen would be present in seas, lakes and rivers, making life much more difficult for living organisms.
4. Almost two-thirds of the weight of living things comes from oxygen, mainly because living things contain a lot of water and 88.9 percent of water’s weight comes from oxygen.
5. Oxygen (O2) is unstable in our planet’s atmosphere and must be constantly replenished by photosynthesis in green plants. Without life, our atmosphere would contain almost no O2.
6. If we discover any other planets with atmospheres rich in oxygen, we will know that life is almost certainly present on these planets; significant quantities of O2 will only exist on planets when it is released by living things.
7. Just five elements make up over 90 percent of the weight in the Earth’s crust. Almost half of the weight of the crust comes from oxygen. (Silicon, aluminum, iron and calcium are the other four main elements in the crust.)
8. The Northern (and Southern) Lights: The green and dark-red colors in the aurora borealis (and australis) are caused by oxygen atoms.
Highly energetic electrons from the solar wind split oxygen molecules high in earth’s atmosphere into excited (high energy) atoms. These atoms lose energy by emitting photons, producing awe-inspiring light shows.
These are usually polar displays, because solar electrons accelerate along our planet’s magnetic field lines until they hit the atmosphere in the polar regions.
9. Oxygen is made in stars which have a mass of five or more Earth suns when they burn helium and carbon or just carbon in nuclear fusion reactions. Oxygen is part of the ‘ash’ formed by these nuclear fires.
10. Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe.
11. A common urban myth is that hyperventilation is caused by breathing in too much oxygen. When we hyperventilate, we breathe too quickly, and this can lead to symptoms such as headache, lightheadedness, dizziness, chest pains, tingling, slurred speech, fainting and spasms. Hyperventilation is really a problem because it forces too much carbon dioxide out of our bodies. We need carbon dioxide in our blood to stop it getting too alkaline. When we hyperventilate, we lose carbon dioxide, which disturbs the equilibrium of substances in our blood, causing its pH to increase; this causes the blood vessels leading to our brains to get narrower, slowing the blood flow, leading to the typical symptoms of hyperventilation.