Search the World of Chemistry

×

The Most Abundant Elements

26th Mar 2019 @ 17 min read

Physical Chemistry

Everything around us, in the earth, and beyond earth is matter. Matter consists of atoms. Every type of atom is associated with an element. There are 118 elements known to us, and they are arranged in the modern periodic table. This article mentions some of the most abundant elements in different systems.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Universe

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe. According to the Big Bang Theory, the Universe at beginning expanded and later cooled to form subatomic particles and the simplest elements.

A photograph of the universe from the Hubble telescope
A photograph from the Hubble Telescope
[Image source: NASA]

Hydrogen along with some helium and lithium is the first element came into existence in the Universe. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe; it accounts for almost 73 % to 75 % of all matter in the Universe. Helium is the second most abundant element which is approximately 24 %. Both represent 99 % of the total matter. Oxygen follows helium as the third most abundant element. Then there are traces of other elements like carbon, nitrogen, iron, and many others.

The most abundant elements in the Universe
The most abundant elements in the Universe

Note: The matter which we are discussing is composed of atoms, but there exist other strange things in the Universe like dark matter, dark energy which comprise of more than 95 % of the Universe.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Milky Way

The Milky Way is the galaxy in which we live. It contains more than 300 billion stars. The composition of the Milky Way is like that of the Universe.

The milky way
Galactic centre of the Milky Way
[Image source: Flickr]

The below graph lists the ten most common elements in the Milky Way.

The most abundant elements in the milky way
The most abundant elements in the Milky Way (the y-axis is in mass percentage)

As we can see from the above graph, hydrogen, helium, and oxygen are the most common element available in our Milky Way. Most of the stars are nothing but a cloud of hydrogen holds by gravitation force. Other elements comprise less than 2 %. Despite the percentage of other elements less than 2 %, they play an important role in astronomical activities.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Solar System

The Solar System is the planetary system with the Sun at the centre and other objects revolving around it. This 4.568 billion-year-old system comprises of one star (the Sun), 8 known planets (including our Earth), and various other astronomical objects like natural satellites, comets, minor planets.

the solar system
The Solar System
[Image source: JPL/NASA]

Since the Solar System is much smaller than the Milky Way, it is more studied, and we have more data on its composition. The graph below presents the element composition of the Solar System.

The most abundant elements in the solar system
The logarithmic of abundance of elements in the Solar System (106 silicon atoms is taken as a base)

As we can observe from the above graph, the abundance decreases exponentially with an increase in atomic number. Hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, neon, magnesium, silicon, and iron are the most common elements in the Solar System.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Sun

The Sun is the energy source of life on Earth. It is 4.6 billion-year-old. The mass of the Sun is (1.988 × 1030) kg, and it is 333 000 times heavier than the Earth. Three fourths of the Sun’s mass consists of hydrogen and remaining helium. Hydrogen is the fuel of the Sun. Every second, million tons of hydrogen fuses into helium through the process of hydrogen fusion. Further fusion reactions produce lithium, beryllium. Eventually, heavier elements like oxygen, carbon, neon, nitrogen, iron are also formed in the Sun.

Layers of the sun
Layers of Sun
[Image source: NASA]

The different layers of the Sun contain different composition. The photosphere is of an outer layer of the Sun which radiates light. It comes between the convection zone and the chromosphere as shown in the above figure. The elemental composition by mass in the photosphere is as follows:

Elemental composition in the Sun’s Photosphere
ElementHydrogenHeliumOxygenCarbonIronNeonNitrogenSiliconMagnesiumSulphur
% by mass73.4624.850.770.290.160.120.090.070.050.04

Since the Sun encompasses more than 99% mass of the Solar System, the elemental composition in both is almost the same. The below graph presents atoms abundance in log10 scale.

The most abundance of elements in the sun
The logarithmic of abundance of elements in the Sun (106 silicon atoms is taken as a base)

Note: There are some differences in the graph of the sun and the solar system. The concentration of lithium in the sun is much less than in the solar system. This is due to lithium in the sun is consumed because of nuclear reactions.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Earth

The Earth, the planet of life, is the planet in which we live. It is the third planet in our Solar System. The mass of this 4.5 billion-year-old planet is 5.972 × 1024 kg.

Layers of the earth: core, mantle, and crust
Layers of Earth

Iron (31.9 %), oxygen (29.7 %), silicon (16.1 %), and magnesium (15.4 %) are the most common elements in the Earth, making 93.1 % of the Earth’s mass. This data is demonstrated in the below pie diagram.

The most abundance of elements in the earth
The most abundant elements in the Earth (percentages are in kgkg)

The bar-graph below presents the abundance of elements in the Earth. The y-axis is part per million, ppm (kgkg) of elements in log10 scale. We can see some differences between the figure below and the fgure of the sun. Particularly, the abundance of hydrogen and helium in the Earth is very less in comparison to the Sun. Also, the composition of carbon and nitrogen is also less than in the Sun.

The most abundance of elements in the earth
The logarithmic abundance of elements in the Earth

The Most Abundant Elements in the Earth’s Crust

The Earth’s crust is the outermost layer of the Earth. Its thickness varies from 5 km to 80 km and takes less than 1 % volume of the Earth. It formed billions of year ago because of the cooling of the Earth. Elemental composition of Earth’s crust is mentioned in the below table.

The most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust
Atomic NumberElements in Earth Crust% Mass% Volume% Atoms
8O46.693.860.5
14Si27.70.920.5
13Al8.10.86.2
26Fe50.51.9
20Ca3.61.01.9
11Na2.81.22.5
19K2.61.51.8
12Mg2.10.291.4
N/AOthers1.50.013.3

As we can see from the above table, oxygen and silicon make more than 70% of the crust. They are followed by aluminium, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium, magnesium. The graph below illustrates the above table.

The most abundance of elements in the earth's crust
The most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust

Apart from the above-mentioned elements, elements found in the crust are titanium (0.62 %), hydrogen (0.14 %), phosphorous (0.13 %), manganese (0.09 %), carbon (0.09 %), barium (0.05 %), chlorine (0.05 %), sulphur (0.05 %), chromium (0.04 %), zirconium (0.03 %), fluorine (0.03 %), and nickel (0.02 %). Other heavier elements exist in traces.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Earth’s Mantle

The Earth’s mantle is the second layer between Earth’s core and crust. Its mass is 4.01 × 1024 kg around 67 % of Earth’s mass. It occupies more than 80 % of Earth’s volume. Temperatures inside the mantle can vary from 200 ℃ at the upper surface to 4000 ℃ at the lower surface. At such a high temperature, solid matter exists in the melt state. Thus, the mantle is semi-fluid. The abundance of elements in the mantle present in the below pie diagram.

The most abundance of elements in the earth's mantle
The most abundant elements in the Earth’s mantle (percentages in kgkg)

From the above figure, oxygen, magnesium, silicon, and iron account for 95 % mass of the mantle. We can also observe that percentages of magnesium and iron in the mantle are much more than that of crust.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Earth’s Core

The core of the Earth is at its centre. It is further divided into inner and outer core. Temperatures inside the core vary from 4000 ℃ to 6000 ℃. It is believed that the inside core is solid while the outer one is liquid. It is mainly composed of iron (85 %) and nickel (5.2 %). Other elements are also present in smaller percentages like silicon (6 %), sulphur (1.9 %), chromium (0.9 %).

The most abundance of elements in the earth's core
The logarithmic most abundant elements in the Earth’s core

The Most Abundant Elements in the Earth’s Atmosphere

The atmosphere of the Earth is a mixture of various gases that we called air. The primary components of air are nitrogen (78.08 %) and oxygen (20.95 %). Other important components are water, argon, carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone. The table below lists it.

The Composition of the Earth’s atmosphere (in mole per cent)
GasFormulaMole %
NitrogenN278.08
OxygenO220.95
Water*H2O0 to 4
ArgonAr0.93
Carbon dioxide*CO20.0360
NeonNe0.0018
HeliumHe0.000524
KryptonKr0.000114
Methane*CH40.0001774
HydrogenH20.00005
Nitrous oxide*N2O0.0000319
XenonXe0.0000087
Ozone*O30.000004
*gases with variable composition

Note: In the above table, the percentages of nitrogen and oxygen remain nearly constant but of water, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone vary significantly with location. These gases are greenhouse gases.

The Most Abundant Elements in the Urban Soils

The composition of the urban soils varies from cities to cities. Also, the composition changes with time due to man-made activities Typical elements in urban soils are oxygen, silicon, carbon, aluminium, calcium, hydrogen, nitrogen, potassium, iron. The graph below lists average values. The owner of the graph has plotted the below graph by evaluating urban soils from 300 cities in all the five continents.

The most abundance of elements in the urban soil
The logarithmic graph of the abundance of elements in urban soils
[Data source: DOI, 10.1016/j.gexplo.2014.08.003]

The Most Abundant Elements in Seawater

Seawater is the giant water body on the surface of the Earth that covers about 70 % of the Earth’s surface. The prime component of seawater is water. A molecule of water (H2O) consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. So, there is no doubt these two elements (oxygen and hydrogen) will be abundant in oceans. Other main components in oceans are salts. The average salinity of seawater is 3.5 % (35 g L−1). Sodium and chloride ions are predominating ions in oceans.

The abundance of elements in seawater or oceans
The abundance of elements in seawater (in mass, kgkg %)

From the above figure, some of the most common elements in oceans are oxygen (86.0 %), hydrogen (10.8 %), sodium (1.075 %), chlorine (1.857 %), magnesium (0.127 %). The below logarithmic graph presents the concentration (µg L−1) of elements on the y-axis with atomic numbers on the x-axis.

The abundance of elements in seawater or oceans
The logarithmic abundance of elements in seawater

The Most Abundant Elements in the Human Body

The human body is the most complex and unique structure in the Universe. The average weight of a human is 70 kg; from this 70 kg, more than 45 kg is only water. This is because 65 % of the human body is water. The most common elements in the body are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. These six elements make up 98 % of our body weight.

The abundance of elements in human body
The abundance of elements in the human body

Oxygen is the present in the highest amount in our body. It accounts for 65 % of the total body mass. Oxygen is found in water. It is a key element in respiration. Carbon follows oxygen; around 18 % of the body is made up of carbon. Carbon occurs in all organic contents: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and nucleic acids. Hydrogen is the third most common element in the body. The hydrogen concentration in mole term is very high. But because of its lightweight, it ends up to 10 % of the body weight. Nitrogen is present in proteins, nucleic acids, and it amounts 3 % of the total body mass. Our bones and teeth comprise of calcium which is about 1.4 % of the body. There are also many other elements present in our body, but their concentration is very less.

Associated Articles

If you appreciate our work, consider supporting us on ❤️ patreon.
Element

Copy Article Cite

Thanks for your response!
Write a response
Sergio
22nd Sep 2020
The most abundent element I like and is my favorite is the milky way because its so cool has billion and billions of stars.
Gabriel
14th Sep 2020
im just gonna say what I know about this Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe.Hydrogen along with some helium and lithium is the first element came into existence Most of the stars are nothing but a cloud of hydrogen holds by gravitation force. I dont know if this is good enough so hope you like.


Join the Newsletter

Subscribe to get latest content in your inbox.

newsletter

We won’t send you spam.