by Carson
Hand with pencil

Carbon is an element that is very common in our bodies and lives. It is also very important.

Carbon in the periodic table

Carbon is the 6th element in the periodic table and its outer layer has 4 electrons. That means it is quite stable, although it is not a type of noble gases. But if you burn carbon in the air, it will oxidize and turn into carbon dioxide (CO2) which is infamous for the greenhouse effect it makes.

It is the most stable if its oxidation state is +4 or -4, which means it loses all of its outer electrons or gains them to form the combination of neon. For example, carbon takes 4 electrons from 4 hydrogen atoms to form methane. But it is the opposite in CO2 because oxygen takes carbon’s outer electrons. Also, there is a compound of carbon monoxide, which is toxic but can restore rust by reacting with oxygen.

Also, organic molecules are a class of compounds of carbon. Methane is the simplest one and CO2 isn’t because it has no carbon-hydrogen bonds. They are mostly produced from living things.

Physical properties

Carbon is the 4th most common element in the Universe and it has the highest melting point of 3642oC. But it vaporizes once it arrives at this point because the pressure is not high enough for carbon to be a liquid. Also, in high pressures like in Jupiter and Saturn, graphite, which is in pencils, can turn into another allotrope — diamond.

It has 3 natural isotopes, while others are made in a lab. 12C and 13C are stable while 14C is not stable and has a half-life of 5,730 years. The isotope is used for determining an object’s age by pointing out how many 14C has already decayed. Meanwhile, 14C is very rare, while 12C accounts for 99% of all carbon and the rest are usually 13C.

You may wonder why the burning temperature is not enough to melt carbon but it immediately vaporizes when burnt. This is because the product, CO2, sublimates at -78.5oC, lower than the temperature on Mars. Also, methane and carbon monoxide are gases too and they boil well before CO2 does.

The importance of carbon

Although carbon isn’t as common as oxygen and silicon in Earth’s crust, it is very essential to us. You’ve always heard of carbohydrates and sugar, and they give you energy. Other than that, a lot of complex things consisting of carbon exists in our bodies, including DNA, and they add up to 18.5% of the human body’s mass. Life on Earth is carbon-based so if carbon didn’t exist, life as we know it wouldn’t form.

Also, although CO2 is bad if the atmosphere has a lot, without it, we’ll be frozen because of the absence of greenhouse effect. Also, some of the light and heat from Sun is through the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen cycle. So, be grateful that this element exists and works perfectly for life here to exist.

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