What is the Composition of Air?

When you take a deep breath after climbing a flight of stairs, feel a cool breeze on a hot summer day, or experience a warm draft from a fire on a winter night, you are interacting with air. But have you ever wondered what exactly air is made of? Although air is all around us, it remains invisible unless it interacts with something.

For instance, have you ever noticed the curtains flutter when you open a window? This indicates that air is coming through the window and pushing the curtains. However, you cannot see the air itself.

Have you ever pondered about the air surrounding you? What is it composed of? How can it be so important yet so elusive and mysterious?

Many people believe that air is primarily composed of oxygen, which is essential for our bodies. While oxygen is indeed a crucial component of air, there are many other substances present in the air around us.

The amount of oxygen in the air varies depending on the location. On average, oxygen constitutes about 21% of the air. However, as you go higher above sea level, the amount of oxygen decreases. For instance, the air at the peaks of tall mountains contains less oxygen, which is why mountain climbers often require oxygen tanks to reach 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 will realize that oxygen and nitrogen together account for approximately 99% of air. So, what makes up the remaining 1%?

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

Water vapor is a natural component of air and plays a vital role in the water cycle. We perceive water vapor in the air as moisture, particularly on humid days. Humidity occurs when there is a high amount of water vapor in the air, which can interfere with our body’s natural cooling process. On hot days, our bodies sweat to cool down, but on humid days, the excess water vapor hinders evaporation, making us feel uncomfortable.

Although we cannot see these gases and microscopic particles in the air, they are present and constitute a substance that our bodies require. Now, with a better understanding of the air we breathe every day, you can breathe easier!

Give it a Try

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

If you’ve finished reading about air, how about going outside with a friend or family member for a walk? While getting some exercise, take deep breaths and observe the air around you. What does it smell like? Can you see any particles in the air? How would you rate the air quality in your area?

If air is a mystery to you because it’s invisible, how do you know it exists? To prove to others that air is all around us, try out the fun Air Science Experiment online. It only requires a few simple supplies and it will 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 actions 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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