What if Oxygen Disappeared on Earth?

Sunburns, darker sky, and combustion engine failure, are the top three answers you’ll find on the internet. But are they really the worst that could happen? Watch the full video to get your mind blown!

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Imagine the following scenario. You are out on the beach, enjoying the sun. It’s a warm summer day, and then.. boom! A darkening of the midday sky. And not only that, you start to experience sunburn, all over your body. Before anyone notices what’s going on, an airplane that was flying above you just moments ago, starts to fall down. By this time, maybe just a person or two, could connect that it is the oxygen that has been annihilated.

Well, this sounds scary.. But at least that’s the kinda answer I found when googling “what happens if oxygen disappeared on earth”. Sunburns, darker sky, and combustion engine failure, made up the top three answers. And with simple physics explanations, we know these claims are true. Without ozone, our planet will be exposed by the UV lights, causing you to get sunburn instantly. Without oxygen that makes up the atmosphere, we won’t be able to see the blue sky. And without oxygen, fire and combustion are impossible, and jet propulsions fail shortly.

But is this a “bad enough” experience? Like “fine, I got sunburns, but my skin’s probably gonna recover from this soon”. Is that really.. the worst that could happen? You know we are capable of transcending this, and I’d say that there are more within it that our minds can never comprehend. So I started digging on “what happens if oxygen disappeared” and almost assuredly, the result shocked me.

Before I jump into details, here are some facts to make you feel better.

Our planet is stable, and is capable of sustaining us for many centuries. Even if we lose about 20 to 50% oxygen molecules on earth, we would still carry on with life. Because that would mean the only difference.. is that the partial pressure of oxygen in the air halves, and around 10% thinner at sea level–remember that the air is made up of 21% oxygen molecules. So when losing some amounts of oxygen molecules, air will be lighter. Some aircrafts would experience some trouble flying, but nothing too significant.

After all, oxygen exists in many forms that include the ozone and the free diatomic molecules in the free air. So when earth slowly loses the oxygen in the air, humankind could possibly find alternatives that include the catalytic breakdown of water into constituent elements. At the end of the day, we’d still have sufficient oxygen that can make us survive for many generations.

But remember when I said.. “So when losing some amounts of oxygen molecules..”

Oxygen molecules, and not oxygen atoms. There’s a clear distinction, and sadly there’s a ton of explainer videos that didn’t even try to explain the implications of losing oxygen atoms instead of oxygen molecules.

So let’s talk about this. What happens now if we lose all the Earth’s oxygen atoms, say for just three seconds. Well, take a look at this.

The vast oceans that cover up to 70% of the earth’s surface consist of a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen (H2O). This means losing oxygen atoms will leave behind the monoatomic particle, which is hydrogen. And because hydrogen is lighter than air, it will eventually evaporate into the atmosphere, and possibly could bleed into space.

Now consider us, human. We are essentially a bag of water that has been at least dignified. Our blood is made up of a liquid element called plasma, and it contains salt, protein and water. So just like before, the total disappearance of oxygen atoms would burst us into fine particles. Not only us, all the water bodies including the oceans, seas, lakes, and even the interior part of the earth.. would burst.

At this point you might be wondering.. Why burst? Well, we could look at the enthalpy scale. Breaking the oxygen-hydrogen bond instantly, results in a state up to four hundred sixty three kJ/mol. And to put this into perspective, heating up water from zero celsius degrees to one hundred celsius degrees is only about 4 kJ/mol.

This means that the breakdown of the water molecules, for the whole water bodies existing on the planet, will result in the release of this gigantic energy. Earth would potentially glow like the sun for at least some time before it fades out. From a distant view, it wouldn’t be difficult to confuse our home planet with a little star.

Since almost everything is aligned to oxygen, the removal of this atom means losing the very essence of our life.