Planet Earth contains over 90 natural elements, though some are found in much larger quantities than others. Without these simple substances, life as we know it would not exist. Let’s discover the single most abundant element on the planet now, and find out more about what elements comprise different parts of our reality.
What Is the Single Most Abundant Element on the Planet?
The single most abundant element on Planet Earth is oxygen (O). There are more oxygen atoms on the planet than any other element.
By mass, oxygen is the most abundant element in the planet’s crust and oceans. It’s the second most abundant element in the atmosphere as well. In Earth’s crust, oxygen accounts for just under half of its total mass.
Oxygen also makes up around 66 percent of the human body as humans and other animals bring oxygen into their bodies through respiration. We breathe in air, and our lungs capture oxygen which is then distributed throughout the rest of the body.
Since oxygen is readily used by lots of things, it needs to be actively replenished to sustain life. Photosynthesizing plankton in oceans produces more than half of the oxygen needed to support the planet. Interestingly, these organisms are responsible for creating the unique oxygen-rich atmosphere on Earth that’s capable of supporting complex organisms in the first place.
Plants using photosynthesis on land also create oxygen. Rainforests around the world are responsible for almost 30 percent of oxygen production alone. Two large trees create enough oxygen per year to support a human family of four which is one of the major reasons deforestation is such a hot-button issue for environmentalists.
Oceanic seaweed provides most of the remaining oxygen needed to support life. Different kinds of seaweed exist all over the world, but like terrestrial forests, their numbers are also declining.
Discover the Single Most Abundant Element on Earth By Mass
Iron (Fe) is the most abundant element on Earth by mass. While there are technically more oxygen atoms on the planet, the iron atoms on Earth combined take up the most space and weigh the most. An oxygen atom is a lot lighter than an iron atom, and oxygen atoms also weigh much less than iron.
Most of the iron on the planet is in Earth’s inner and outer core. Around 85 percent of the solid inner core of our planet is iron, and this inner core is just under 1,500 miles in diameter. The molten outer core is just under 5,000 miles in diameter, and over 80 percent of it is also comprised of iron.
What Is the Single Most Abundant Element in Our Planet’s Atmosphere?
The single most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen (N). Nitrogen makes up about 78 percent of the atmosphere, with oxygen coming in second at 21 percent. This means that about 99 percent of the air we need to live is made solely from these two elements.
When two nitrogen atoms bond, they form a triple bond. Triple bonds are exceedingly stable, and this keeps nitrogen from reacting with a lot of things. It isn’t constantly involved in processes like respiration or oxidation which allows it to exist in higher concentrations as a gas than oxygen in the atmosphere.
Nitrogen also isn’t as easily destroyed by solar radiation as oxygen. Again, this is because nitrogen exists as two atoms in a triple bond. In comparison, oxygen atoms usually form double-bonded pairs. This allows nitrogen to exist in much higher quantities in the atmosphere than less stable oxygen.
What Is the Single Most Abundant Element in the Universe?
The single most abundant element in the universe is hydrogen (H). Helium (He) comes in second, and oxygen is third. 90 percent of the atoms in existence are hydrogen, and 75 percent of all extant mass in the universe is hydrogen.
Hydrogen is found in such large quantities in the universe because it’s the simplest element in existence. It contains only one electron and one proton, and it lacks a neutron. This means that hydrogen is tiny, and it’s also the lightest element in existence.
Within stars, atoms of hydrogen fuse which forms helium. Because of this, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. This nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars releases an incredible amount of energy, and it’s the reason our sun emits the light that makes life on Earth possible.
Helium is the second lightest element, and it is also the smallest. It’s smaller than hydrogen because it has protons in its nucleus which pulls its electrons closer to its center. Hydrogen and helium are so abundant that all other matter makes up around one-tenth of one percent of the remaining matter in the universe.
Discover Why Hydrogen Isn’t the Single Most Abundant Element on Earth
Despite hydrogen being more abundant than anything else in the universe, it is not the most abundant element on Earth. Any hydrogen gas in the atmosphere easily escapes into space because it’s lighter than air.
The hydrogen that is on Earth is almost always impure because hydrogen is so reactive that almost none can exist on the planet as a singular atom. Despite this, hydrogen is a crucial component of vital substances like water, and it’s found in more compounds on Earth than any other element.
Hydrogen’s reactivity is infamous. Since it’s so light, this gas was used in early twentieth-century airships. The Hindenburg was the last of these airships, and it burst into flames as a result of the reactive hydrogen gas used to make it float.
Hydrogen bombs are the most dangerous weapons ever created by humans. To date, no one has used them in combat because of the destruction they will cause. To create this catastrophic explosion, heavy hydrogen atoms fuse to create helium in a process a lot like what takes place in the Sun.
This fusion creates such vast amounts of energy and light that hydrogen bombs are a thousand times more destructive than the atom bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. They have the potential to kill every living thing within a 10-mile radius of the bomb’s location.
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