The atmosphere of Earth atmosphere of is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), and reducing temperature extremes between day and night.
Atmospheric stratification describes the structure of the atmosphere, dividing it into distinct layers, each with specific characteristics such as temperature or composition. The atmosphere has a mass of about 5×1018 kg, three quarters of which is within about 11 km (6.8 mi; 36,000 ft) of the surface. The atmosphere becomes thinner and thinner with increasing altitude, with no definite boundary between the atmosphere and outer space. An altitude of 120 km (75 mi) is where atmospheric effects become noticeable during atmospheric reentry of spacecraft. The Kármán line, at 100 km (62 mi), also is often regarded as the boundary between atmosphere and outer space.
Air is the name given to atmosphere used in breathing and photosynthesis. Dry air contains roughly (by volume) 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.039% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1%. While air content and atmospheric pressure varies at different layers, air suitable for the survival of terrestrial plants and terrestrial animals is currently known only to be found in Earth's troposphere and artificial atmospheres.
Mainly composed of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, which together constitute the major gases of the atmosphere. The remaining gases are often referred to as trace gases, among which are the greenhouse gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Filtered air includes trace amounts of many other chemical compounds. Many natural substances may be present in tiny amounts in an unfiltered air sample, including dust, pollen and spores, sea spray, and volcanic ash. Various industrial pollutants also may be present, such as chlorine (elementary or in compounds), fluorine compounds, elemental mercury, and sulfur compounds such as sulfur dioxide [SO2].
general, air pressure and density decrease in the atmosphere as height increases. However, temperature has a more complicated profile with altitude. Because the general pattern of this profile is constant and recognizable through means such as balloon soundings, temperature provides a useful metric to distinguish between atmospheric layers. In this way, Earth's atmosphere can be divided into five main layers. From highest to lowest, these layers are:
The outermost layer of Earth's atmosphere extends from the exobase upward. It is mainly composed of hydrogen and helium. The particles are so far apart that they can travel hundreds of kilometres without colliding with one another. Since the particles rarely collide, the atmosphere no longer behaves like a fluid. These free-moving particles follow ballistic trajectories and may migrate into and out of the magnetosphere or the solar wind.
Thermosphere Temperature increases with height in the thermosphere from the mesopause up to the thermopause, then is constant with height. Unlike in the stratosphere, where the inversion is caused by absorption of radiation by ozone, in the thermosphere the inversion is a result of the extremely low density of molecules. The temperature of this layer can rise to 1,500 °C (2,730 °F), though the gas molecules are so far apart that temperature in the usual sense is not well defined. The air is so rarified, that an individual molecule (of oxygen, for example) travels an average of 1 kilometer between collisions with other molecules. The International Space Station orbits in this layer, between 320 and 380 km (200 and 240 mi). Because of the relative infrequency of molecular collisions, air above the mesopause is poorly mixed compared to air below. While the composition from the troposphere to the mesosphere is fairly constant, above a certain point, air is poorly mixed and becomes compositionally stratified. The point dividing these two regions is known as the turbopause. The region below is the homosphere, and the region above is the heterosphere. The top of the thermosphere is the bottom of the exosphere, called the exobase. Its height varies with solar activity and ranges from about 350–800 km (220–500 mi; 1,100,000–2,600,000 ft).
The mesosphere extends from the stratopause to 80–85 km (50–53 mi; 260,000–280,000 ft). It is the layer where most meteors burn up upon entering the atmosphere. Temperature decreases with height in the mesosphere. The mesopause, the temperature minimum that marks the top of the mesosphere, is the coldest place on Earth and has an average temperature around −85 °C (−121 °F; 188.1 K). At the mesopause, temperatures may drop to −100 °C (−148 °F; 173.1 K). Due to the cold temperature of the mesophere, water vapor is frozen, forming ice clouds (or Noctilucent clouds). A type of lightning referred to as either sprites or ELVES, form many miles above thunderclouds in the troposphere.
Stratosphere The stratosphere extends from the tropopause to about 51 km (32 mi; 170,000 ft). Temperature increases with height due to increased absorption of ultraviolet radiation by the ozone layer, which restricts turbulence and mixing. While the temperature may be -60° −60 °C (−76 °F; 213.2 K) at the troposphere, the top of the stratosphere is much warmer, and may be near freezing. The stratopause, which is the boundary between the stratosphere and mesosphere, typically is at 50 to 55 km (31 to 34 mi; 160,000 to 180,000 ft). The pressure here is 1/1000 sea level
The troposphere begins at the surface and extends to between 9 km (30,000 ft) at the poles and 17 km (56,000 ft) at the equator, with some variation due to weather. The troposphere is mostly heated by transfer of energy from the surface, so on average the lowest part of the troposphere is warmest and temperature decreases with altitude. This promotes vertical mixing (hence the origin of its name in the Greek word "τροπή", trope, meaning turn or overturn). The troposphere contains roughly 80% of the mass of the atmosphere. The tropopause is the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere.