by Anashe Bandari
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) made the first-ever measurement of heavy atomic oxygen in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Heavy oxygen is so called because it has 10 neutrons, rather than the normal eight of “main” oxygen, the form we breathe. Heavy oxygen is seen as a signature of biological activity, common in the lower atmosphere. Both forms are byproducts of photosynthesis, but main oxygen is consumed by the respiration of living things more than its heavy counterpart, leaving a larger concentration of heavy oxygen behind.
Little is known, however, about how this abundance of heavy oxygen permeates