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What Is Air Made Out Of

by Lyndon Langley
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What Is Air Made Out Of

What Is Air Made Out Of

Air is a gas composed mostly of gases that we breathe in every day. But what exactly is it made out of? What elements do you need to make an air molecule? And how did they come together into one of life’s essential necessities? Well, here is what makes up your average air molecule:
Nitrogen (N) – 78%
Oxygen (O) – 21%
Argon (Ar) – 1%
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – 0.13%
Neon (Ne) – 0.06%
Helium (He) – 0.01%
Krypton (Kr) – 0.005%
Hydrogen (H) – 0.001%
Xenon (Xe) – 0.0003%
These percentages add up to 100%. These molecules contain the entire range of possible chemical compounds between Carbon (C), Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O). There are many other combinations but these are the most common ones found within the atmosphere. Nitrogen is the largest component by mass of our air, with approximately 78 percent of the total being composed of this single element. The next largest contributor would be O which accounts for around 21 percent of the air’s composition. Argon provides about 1 percent of the air’s weight while only having 1 percent of its volume. Carbon Dioxide makes up less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the air’s weight but almost 13 times more than its volume. Neon contributes almost nothing to the air’s weight or volume but has been shown to contribute to ozone formation. Helium, Krypton and Xenon make up even smaller portions of the air’s makeup but still play important roles in chemistry.
Now that we know what air is composed of, we can see why Standard Dry Air is used as a reference point when discussing the air we breath. Standard Dry Air contains roughly 20 percent oxygen and 80 percent nitrogen. This percentage is constant all over the world regardless of where you live. Other air compositions exist such as sea-level pressure air (SLP) which is 85 percent N2 and 15 percent O2. SLP helps regulate the body’s blood pressure and acid-base balance.
In addition to standard dry air, there are several other types of air including low-oxygen mixtures (LOMs), high altitude aircraft cabin pressurization systems (CAPS), and hyperbaric chambers. LOMs usually consist of a mixture of 50 percent nitrogen and 50 percent oxygen. This type of air is used for medical purposes or during situations where a person may have difficulty breathing normally due to health conditions like emphysema or asthma. CAPS is used to simulate the effect of living at higher altitudes. Hyperbaric chambers are used to treat decompression sickness. Decompression sickness occurs when divers experience bubbles rising through their bodies from the lungs after surfacing too quickly.
There are also two different kinds of air masses: adiabatic and isothermal. Adiabatic means “without heat,” and refers to air flowing without any change in temperature. An example of an adiabatic air mass is the same air that everyone breathes at sea level. Isothermal means “with uniform heat” and refers to air that has the same temperature throughout. Most people think of warm weather days as an example of isothermal temperatures, but cold weather days are also examples. For instance, if a man in Florida walks outside on a sunny winter day he will notice his skin is warmer than the air around him. He is actually experiencing isothermal conditions since the air surrounding him is hot. If someone were walking outside in Alaska on the exact same day they would notice the air was cooler than their skin and clothing. They would be experiencing isothermal conditions since the air surrounding them was cool.
Aerodynamics deals with forces exerted upon objects as they move through fluids such as air. In general, aerodynamic forces cause planes to travel faster and missiles to fly farther. Aerodynamic drag is the force caused by friction between a plane’s wings, fuselage, and the air flowing past. When a plane moves through the sky, the air exerts aerodynamic lift on the craft instead of causing drag. A parachute works by using lift to slow down a falling object. As long as the parachute is properly attached to the falling object, the parachute slows down the fall. Without lift, parachutes wouldn’t work.
The speed of sound is measured in meters per second. Once thought to be a constant, scientists now believe it varies according to temperature and other factors. Sound waves travel through the air at a rate of 343 meters per second. At room temperature, sound travels at a speed of 579 meters per second. So the faster something goes, the slower sound travels. To illustrate this further, let’s say someone starts running toward you screaming. You hear them before they get close enough to touch you and so does anyone else nearby. However, if you stood back 10 yards (9.14 meters) away from this runner, then you’d hear them scream first. Why? The distance traveled is longer and sound takes time to travel that far.
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