No, oxygen does not burn but it is required
for other materials to burn. This is because
we define “burning” (also called combustion) as
reacting with oxygen in a way that breaks apart
the bonds in the original material and replaces
them with stable oxygen bonds. This process
releases a lot of heat.
In organic materials like wood and gasoline,
burning breaking bonds between carbon and other
atoms like hydrogen to form mostly carbon dioxide
(CO2) and water (H2O). (When
oxygen can’t get to the fire fast enough, the
process is incomplete and forms soot, made of only
This means that if you created an electrical
spark in a room filled with only hydrogen gas, it
would not burn, because there is no oxygen for it
to react with. Similarly, if you created a spark
in a room filled only with oxygen, it also would
not burn because there is no fuel for it to react
The oxygen does not need to be in the gaseous
form that we breathe for something to burn,
however. Solid oxidizers like nitrates
(NO3-), chlorates (ClO3-),
or perchlorates (NO4-) can provide
oxygen in a powder form – often used in fireworks.
There are other reactions that look like
burning but are not. For example, the sun’s
heat is caused by nuclear fusion (where small
atoms come together to make larger atoms) and
produces so much heat that the materials glow.
So, the sun may look like a fireball in the sky
but it’s not burning oxygen like a fire would.
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