Nitrogen in the Atmosphere

Nitrogen in the Atmosphere
Nitrogen in the atmosphere is more abundant than life-sustaining oxygen. Nitrogen is needed by humans, animals and plants for manufacturing proteins and other essential building units.In 1772, a Scottish physician named Daniel Rutherford discovered the element 'nitrogen'. Nitrogen as an element is denoted by the letter 'N', and has atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.0067u. Also, known as 'nitrum' in Latin and 'Nitron' in Greek, nitrogen in the atmosphere exists in the form of a diatomic gas; N2 and is attributed with characteristic features like tasteless, odorless and colorless. Nitrogen in the liquid form bears semblance to water. Besides N2, nitrogen also exists in the form of ammonia, nitric acid, organic nitrates, uric acid, urea, etc., which happen to be important commercial compounds. Non-metal nitrogen consists of five electrons in its outermost shell, thereby forms triple bonds in most compounds. Thus, the bond between two nitrogen atoms to form N2 is a triple bond. Triple bonds are strong bonds that break with a lot of difficulty, thus, prevent N2 from forming other compounds easily.

Why is There So Much Nitrogen in the Atmosphere?

As compared to oxygen, nitrogen is four times more abundant in the Earth's atmosphere, with the percentage of nitrogen in the atmosphere as 78.084%. Moreover, it is also known as the seventh most abundant element found in the universe. Element nitrogen is volatile in its different forms and does not react with materials forming the solid Earth. Moreover, nitrogen is also quite stable in the presence of solar radiation. All these factors combine to make nitrogen one of commonly found elements in the atmosphere.

Source of Nitrogen in the Atmosphere

Nitrogen: the element is formed by the process of fusion occurring in stars. Scientists have observed various compounds in outer space with nitrogen. Saturn's moon Titan happens to have molecular nitrogen, as its major constituent. However, nitrogen has not been present in the universe, since its inception. It was only 300 thousand years after the 'Big Bang', that nitrogen was formed. When the helium mass of a star, in the universe, became big enough for attaining required pressure and temperature, helium in the star fused to form heavier elements like nitrogen. This process of formation of heavier nuclei is called nucleosynthesis. So, this was how nitrogen actually came into existence.

When the Earth was formed after 10 Gyrs (gigayears), nitrogen was a predominant material participating in the Earth's formation. Scientists believe that nitrogen available then, was in the solid form, and towards the end of the Earth's formation, high temperatures melted the solid nitrogen. The different volcanic eruptions on the Earth's surface caused solid nitrogen to heat and emit nitrogen gas. This nitrogen gas emitted from the volcano entered into the atmosphere and were also deposited on certain parts of the Earth's surface. This was how nitrogen came into the Earth's atmosphere.

Nitrogen is also found in all living organisms. In fact, it is like carbon and is indispensable for survival of life on Earth. Nitrogen is also found in large amounts in animal wastes in the form of uric acid, urea, etc. Cottonseed meals, linseed meals, etc., are also sources of nitrogen. Lightening causes atmospheric N2 to be converted into nitrate, while plant decay results in volatile nitrogen release. Fogs in coastal areas are also a source of nitrogen in the atmosphere.

Why do we Need Nitrogen in the Atmosphere?

4% of plant matter's dry weight is nitrogen. Plants require adequate supply of nitrogen for their proper growth and development. This is because nitrogen plays a crucial role in the formation of compounds like protein, amino acids, nucleic acids, etc. Though, 78% of the Earth's atmosphere imbibes nitrogen, plants and animals have no direct way of accessing it. Atmospheric nitrogen cannot be absorbed by the plants, instead has to be fixed or transformed into another biologically suitable compound that can be absorbed by them. This process is called nitrogen fixation or nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is also seen to form 3% of human body weight, where it is seen to play a crucial role in food digestion and overall body growth. Proteins ingested in the diet contain nitrogen, which after metabolism is used to form adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules. ATP molecules are energy sources for the body! Read more on:
Nitrogen Cycle Steps
Interesting Facts about Nitrogen Cycle
Importance of nitrogen in the atmosphere is seen in all fields of life, and besides, the natural nitrogen uses, this element is utilized for various commercial purposes. Above all, nitrogen in the atmosphere is indispensable to life and sustenance on Earth!

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