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Millions of tons of a strange new chemical were discovered in Earth’s atmosphere

Published Jun 4th, 2022 10:14AM EDT
Earth in space
Image: Tryfonov / Adobe

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Scientists have discovered that an ultra-reactive chemical in Earth’s atmosphere lasts much longer than we previously believed. In fact, they believe that millions of tons of the chemical could linger in the atmosphere for several hours.

This ultra-reactive chemical in the Earth’s atmosphere may be cause for concern

ultra-reactive chemicals found in Earth's atmosphereImage source: studio023 / Adobe

The chemicals in question are hydrotrioxides. The chemical is made up of a hydrogen atom and three oxygen atoms. Perhaps the most concerning thing about how long these ultra-reactive chemicals last in the Earth’s atmosphere, though, is the implications they have for human health and the Earth’s climate.

Hydrotrioxides were previously believed to only linger for a very short time. Now, though, a new study suggests they could linger in the Earth’s atmosphere for at least 20 minutes, maybe longer. And, because it is a product of common chemical reactions, new amounts of the chemical are being generated almost constantly.

Further, this ultra-reactive chemical in the Earth’s atmosphere can interact with other compounds extremely quickly. And, because hydrotrioxides contain extra oxygen atoms, they could be extremely flammable. In fact, other peroxides have been used in rocket fuel thanks to their flammability.

This isn’t a new chemical reaction

chemical reaction in flasksImage source: alexeevich / Adobe

It is important to note that this isn’t a new chemical reaction. The study, which researchers published in the journal Science in late May, says this is just the first time we have found evidence of these chemicals in the atmosphere. But now that we know this ultra-reactive chemical is in the Earth’s atmosphere, it does have some scientists wondering how it might affect our health.

Scientists consider hydrotrioxides ultra-reactive for a reason. Unlike some other chemicals, hydrotrioxides can interact with just about any other chemical out there. Further, almost all chemical reactions create hydrotrioxides. As such, the researchers estimate at least 11 million tons of hydrotrioxides form in the atmosphere each year.

Because this ultra-reactive chemical is so common in Earth’s atmosphere, scientists believe it could play a key part in how the atmosphere works. What that part is, though, is unclear. To prove that kind of thing, scientists will need to look deeper into hydrotrioxides as a whole.

While we don’t have all those answers just yet, though, it is always intriguing to see science confirming the existence of something within our world. Yes, the chemical itself might not be new. But its existence in our atmosphere is new knowledge. And now that we know, we can figure out what part it might play, and even if it plays a part in the atmospheres of other planets too.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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