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Here are four different ways chemists use to show a molecule of nitrogen. In colored molecule models like these, nitrogen is usually blue.
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Windows to the Universe original artwork by Randy Russell.

Nitrogen

There is more nitrogen gas in the air than any other kind of gas. About 4/5ths of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen gas! A molecule of nitrogen gas is made up of two nitrogen atoms.

There are other molecules in the atmosphere that have nitrogen atoms in them too, such as nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). These molecules are air pollutants. They are made in the engines of cars and other places. They also make other kinds of air pollution such as peroxyacetyl nitrate (PAN), a dangerous chemical in smog. They also help make nitric acid. Nitric acid is part of acid rain.

Down on the land, nitrogen atoms are important parts of living creatures, soils, and even rivers. The Nitrogen Cycle explains how nitrogen atoms move around in the environment, including through living things like you and me!

Last modified May 4, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

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Molecules

Most things around us are made of groups of atoms bonded together into packages called molecules. The atoms in a molecule are held together because they share or exchange electrons. Molecules are made...more

Air Pollution

What do smog, acid rain, carbon monoxide, fossil fuel exhausts, and tropospheric ozone have in common? They are all examples of air pollution. Air pollution is not new. As far back as the 13 th century,...more

Air Pollution Sources

Air pollution comes from many different sources. Natural processes that affect air quality include volcanoes, which produce sulfur, chlorine, and ash particulates. Wildfires produce smoke and carbon monoxide....more

PAN (Peroxyacytyl nitrate) - C2H3O5N

PAN (Peroxyacytyl nitrate) is a kind of air pollution. It is part of smog. PAN makes people's eyes hurt and it is bad for your lungs. It also damages plants. PAN forms when some other kinds of chemicals...more

Photochemical Smog

Smog is a type of air pollution. Smog is a mixture of smoke and fog. Smog usually forms when smoke from pollution mixes with fog. For example, London, England, is often very foggy. Most people in London...more

Nitric Acid - HNO3

Nitric acid is a very strong acid that can burn your skin. Nitric acid has nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms in it. There is a very tiny bit of nitric acid gas in Earth's atmosphere. Nitric acid is...more

Acid Rain

Acid rain is a general term used to describe different kinds of acidic air pollution. Although some acidic air pollutants return directly back to Earth, a lot of it returns in rain, snow, sleet, hail,...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA