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Atomic symbol O
Atomic number 8
Classification Non-metal
Atomic mass 16.0 amu
Other Information
Date of discovery 1774
Name of discoverer Joseph Priestley
Name origin From the Greek words oxus (acid) and gennan (generate)
Uses Supports life
Obtained from From liquid air

Oxygen is a chemical element with 8 protons.[1] Oxygen's atomic mass is slightly under 16, since it also has 8 neutrons (a slight amount of mass is "lost" in the energy contained in the subatomic bonds).

The name "oxygen" means "acid maker": Many common acids -- nitric, sulfuric, phosphoric, etc. -- are just hydrogen nitrate, hydrogen sulfate, or hydrogen phosphate, where the nitrate, sulfate, and phosphate complexes involve oxygen.

Under normal conditions oxygen is a colorless, odorless gas consisting of two oxygen atoms which has the chemical formula O2. This means it is diatomic. Approximately 20% of the atmosphere is made up of oxygen. Oxygen also forms a triatomic molecule called ozone (O3), which, although unstable under normal conditions, is a very important ingredient in the upper atmosphere, forming a layer which blocks most of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Oxygen is highly reactive, and in many other elements and compounds undergo exothermic reactions with it (they burn or rust). If it were not for its continual replenishment as a waste product of plant photosynthesis, all atmospheric oxygen would disappear, forming compounds with other chemicals at the earth's surface.

Many animals depend upon oxygen as a highly efficient ingredient for breaking down food for energy, due to its reactivity. Those that do not are called "anaerobic", meaning "without air", and include many important bacteria.

  1. Wile, Dr. Jay L. Exploring Creation With Physical Science. Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. 1999, 2000