What Is Air Composed of?

When you climb a flight of stairs and take a deep breath, when there’s a refreshing breeze on a scorching summer day, or when you feel a warm draft from a fire on a cold winter night, what do all of these experiences have in common? The answer is “air!”

But have you ever wondered what exactly air is? It surrounds you, but you can’t see it unless it interacts with something.

For example, have you ever opened a window and noticed the curtains fluttering? That’s a sign that air is coming in through the window and pushing the curtains. However, you still can’t see the air itself.

Have you ever wondered about the air that is all around you? What is it made of? How can it be so important and yet remain so elusive and mysterious?

Many people believe that air is mostly composed of oxygen. After all, our bodies desperately need oxygen from the air we breathe. While oxygen is indeed a crucial component of air, there are many other substances that make up the air around us.

The amount of oxygen in the air is not the same everywhere. On average, oxygen accounts for about 21% of air. However, as you move higher above sea level, the amount of oxygen decreases. For instance, there is less oxygen in the air at the peaks of tall mountains. That’s why mountain climbers often need to use oxygen tanks when ascending to the highest peaks, like Mount Everest.

About 78% of air is actually composed of another common gas called nitrogen. If you add up the percentages, you’ll realize that oxygen and nitrogen together make up only about 99% of air. So, what makes up the remaining 1%?

In addition to oxygen and nitrogen, air also contains small amounts of other gases such as argon, carbon dioxide, helium, methane, and other trace gases. But that’s not all! Air also contains other substances like dust, pollen, microbes, spores, and even water!

Water vapor is a natural component of air and is part of the water cycle. On humid days, you can feel the moisture in the air. Remember those hot summer days when it felt like the air was humid even though it wasn’t raining? That’s because of the water vapor in the air.

Humid days can be uncomfortable because the amount of moisture in the air interferes with your body’s natural cooling process. On a hot day, your body sweats to cool down. The sweat evaporates from your skin, which lowers your body temperature. However, on humid days, the sweat doesn’t evaporate as easily because there is already a high amount of water vapor in the air.

So, even though you can’t see all the gases and microscopic particles in the air around you, they are present and make up a substance that your body needs. Now you can breathe easier knowing a bit more about the air you use every day!

Give It a Try

Take a deep breath and get ready to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

If you have finished reading about air, why not go outside and take a walk to get some fresh air? Take a friend or family member with you and as you exercise, take deep breaths. Take note of the smell of the air and see if you can observe any particles in it. How would you rate the air quality in your area?

Do you find air mysterious because you can’t see it? How do you know it’s there? If you want to prove to others that air is all around us, check out the Air Science Experiment online. It’s a fun way to demonstrate this fact using simple supplies. You’ll be able to amaze your friends and family!

Are you ready to conduct your own scientific investigation into air quality? Go online and explore the Clean Air Detective: Investigating Air Pollution lesson. What did you learn about the air quality in your area? What steps can you take to improve the air quality around you? Make a list and share your findings with a friend or family member.

Wonder Sources:

– http://microbemagic.ucc.ie/explore_body/air_composition.html (accessed 01 June 2020)

– http://www.weatherquestions.com/What_is_air_made_of.htm (accessed 01 June 2020)

– http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryfaqs/f/aircomposition.htm (accessed 01 June 2020)

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