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Essential Elements

26 27 oxygEn SulPhur the over and underworlds of group VI A A fifth of the air we breathe is oxygen. After hydrogen and helium, it is the third most abundant element in the universe. A highly reactive gas, needing only two more electrons to fill its outer orbitals, it plays a considerable role on our planet. Usually diatomic O2, the eighth element also comes in threes as ozone O3. Found naturally in the upper atmosphere protecting us from cosmic radiation, ozones tendency to oxidize, or add oxgen atoms to, many ions means that nasty chemicals high in the air can leech away this precious shield. Just under half the earths crust consists of oxygen atoms. The top ten most common compounds are all oxides just under half is sand, silicon dioxide SiO2, a third is magnesium oxide MgO and much of the rest is ironII oxide FeO. Water H2O, that most useful stuff, is another oxygen compound. Below oxygen in the periodic table is the underworld of sulphur. Usually found as a brittle, pale yellow solid, it displays a profusion of multiatom ring and chain allotropes, burning in air to create sulphur dioxide SO2. Combining with water in clouds, it can become tree scolding sulphurous acid rain. Sulphur is less electronegative than oxygen, and hydrogen sulphide H2S acts differently than water, hydrogen bonding having little influence. To us a fiendishly toxic gas with a rotten egg smell, whole colonies of creatures nervetheless live in the dark on energy metabolised by sulphurbreathing bacteria beside deep ocean volcanic vents bubbling hot H2S.
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