The exosphere (Ancient Greek: ἔξω éxō "outside, external, beyond", Ancient Greek: σφαῖρα sphaĩra "sphere") is a thin, atmosphere-like volume surrounding a planet or natural satellite where molecules are gravitationally bound to that body, but where the density is too low for them to behave as a gas by colliding with each other.[1] In the case of bodies with substantial atmospheres, such as Earth's atmosphere, the exosphere is the uppermost layer, where the atmosphere thins out and merges with interplanetary space. It is located directly above the thermosphere. Very little is known about it due to lack of research. Mercury, the Moon and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter have surface boundary exospheres, which are exospheres without a denser atmosphere underneath.

Diagram showing the five primary layers of the Earth's atmosphere: exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. The layers are to scale. From Earth's surface to the top of the stratosphere (50km) is just under 1% of Earth's radius.

Surface boundary exosphere

Mercury and several large moons, such as the Moon and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, have exospheres without a denser atmosphere underneath,[2] referred to as a surface boundary exosphere.[3] Here, molecules are ejected on elliptic trajectories until they collide with the surface. Smaller bodies such as asteroids, in which the molecules emitted from the surface escape to space, are not considered to have exospheres.

Earth's exosphere

The most common molecules within Earth's exosphere are those of the lightest atmospheric gases. Hydrogen is present throughout the exosphere, with some helium, carbon dioxide, and atomic oxygen near its base. Because it can be hard to define the boundary between the exosphere and outer space (see "Upper boundary" at the end of this section), the exosphere may be considered a part of interplanetary or outer space.

Lower boundary

The lower boundary of the exosphere is called the exobase. It is also called exopause and 'critical altitude' as this is the altitude where barometric conditions no longer apply. Atmospheric temperature becomes nearly a constant above this altitude.[4] On Earth, the altitude of the exobase ranges from about 500 to 1,000 kilometres (310 to 620 mi) depending on solar activity.[5]

The exobase can be defined in one of two ways:

If we define the exobase as the height at which upward-traveling molecules experience one collision on average, then at this position the mean free path of a molecule is equal to one pressure scale height. This is shown in the following. Consider a volume of air, with horizontal area and height equal to the mean free path , at pressure and temperature . For an ideal gas, the number of molecules contained in it is:

where is the universal gas constant. From the requirement that each molecule traveling upward undergoes on average one collision, the pressure is:

where is the mean molecular mass of the gas. Solving these two equations gives:

which is the equation for the pressure scale height. As the pressure scale height is almost equal to the density scale height of the primary constituent, and because the Knudsen number is the ratio of mean free path and typical density fluctuation scale, this means that the exobase lies in the region where .

The fluctuation in the height of the exobase is important because this provides atmospheric drag on satellites, eventually causing them to fall from orbit if no action is taken to maintain the orbit.

Upper boundary of Earth

In principle, the exosphere covers distances where particles are still gravitationally bound to Earth, i.e. particles still have ballistic orbits that will take them back towards Earth. The upper boundary of the exosphere can be defined as the distance at which the influence of solar radiation pressure on atomic hydrogen exceeds that of Earth's gravitational pull. This happens at half the distance to the Moon (the average distance between Earth and the Moon is 384,400 kilometres (238,900 mi)). The exosphere, observable from space as the geocorona, is seen to extend to at least 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) from Earth's surface.

Moon's exosphere

On 17 August 2015, based on studies with the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, NASA scientists reported the detection of neon in the exosphere of the moon.[1]


  1. ^ a b Steigerwald, William (17 August 2015). "NASA's LADEE Spacecraft Finds Neon in Lunar Atmosphere". NASA. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
  2. ^ Day, Brian (20 August 2013). "Why LADEE Matters". NASA Ames Research Center. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
  3. ^ "Is There an Atmosphere on the Moon?". NASA. 30 January 2014. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  4. ^ Bauer, Siegfried; Lammer, Helmut. Planetary Aeronomy: Atmosphere Environments in Planetary Systems, Springer Publishing, 2004.
  5. ^ "Exosphere - overview". UCAR. 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2015.

External links

  • Gerd W. Prolss: Physics of the Earth's Space Environment: An Introduction. ISBN 3-540-21426-7
Anomalous oxygen

Anomalous oxygen is hot atomic and singly ionized oxygen believed to be present in Earth's exosphere above 500 km near the poles during their respective summers. This additional component augmenting the mainly hydrogen and helium exosphere is able to explain the unexpectedly high drag forces on satellites passing near the poles in their summers. Anomalous oxygen densities are included in the NRLMSISE-00 models of Earth's atmosphere.


An atmosphere (from Ancient Greek ἀτμός (atmos), meaning 'vapour', and σφαῖρα (sphaira), meaning 'ball' or 'sphere') is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in place by the gravity of that body. An atmosphere is more likely to be retained if the gravity it is subject to is high and the temperature of the atmosphere is low.

The atmosphere of Earth is composed of nitrogen (about 78%), oxygen (about 21%), argon (about 0.9%) , carbon dioxide (0.04%) and other gases in trace amounts. Oxygen is used by most organisms for respiration; nitrogen is fixed by bacteria and lightning to produce ammonia used in the construction of nucleotides and amino acids; and carbon dioxide is used by plants, algae and cyanobacteria for photosynthesis. The atmosphere helps to protect living organisms from genetic damage by solar ultraviolet radiation, solar wind and cosmic rays. The current composition of the Earth's atmosphere is the product of billions of years of biochemical modification of the paleoatmosphere by living organisms.

The term stellar atmosphere describes the outer region of a star and typically includes the portion above the opaque photosphere. Stars with sufficiently low temperatures may have outer atmospheres with compound molecules.

Atmosphere of Earth

The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, commonly known as air, that surrounds the planet Earth and is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere of Earth protects life on Earth by creating pressure allowing for liquid water to exist on the Earth's surface, absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention (greenhouse effect), and reducing temperature extremes between day and night (the diurnal temperature variation).

By volume, dry air contains 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, and small amounts of other gases. Air also contains a variable amount of water vapor, on average around 1% at sea level, and 0.4% over the entire atmosphere. Air content and atmospheric pressure vary at different layers, and air suitable for use in photosynthesis by terrestrial plants and breathing of terrestrial animals is found only in Earth's troposphere and in artificial atmospheres.

The atmosphere has a mass of about 5.15×1018 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. The Kármán line, at 100 km (62 mi), or 1.57% of Earth's radius, is often used as the border between the atmosphere and outer space. Atmospheric effects become noticeable during atmospheric reentry of spacecraft at an altitude of around 120 km (75 mi). Several layers can be distinguished in the atmosphere, based on characteristics such as temperature and composition.

The study of Earth's atmosphere and its processes is called atmospheric science (aerology). Early pioneers in the field include Léon Teisserenc de Bort and Richard Assmann.

Atmosphere of Mercury

Mercury has a very tenuous and highly variable atmosphere (surface-bound exosphere) containing hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium, potassium and water vapor, with a combined pressure level of about 10−14 bar (1 nPa). The exospheric species originate either from the Solar wind or from the planetary crust. Solar light pushes the atmospheric gases away from the Sun, creating a comet-like tail behind the planet.

The existence of a Mercurian atmosphere had been contentious before 1974, although by that time a consensus had formed that Mercury, like the Moon, lacked any substantial atmosphere. This conclusion was confirmed in 1974 when the unmanned Mariner 10 spaceprobe discovered only a tenuous exosphere. Later, in 2008, improved measurements were obtained by the MESSENGER spacecraft, which discovered magnesium in the Mercurian exosphere.

Atmosphere of Uranus

The atmosphere of Uranus is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium. At depth it is significantly enriched in volatiles (dubbed "ices") such as water, ammonia and methane. The opposite is true for the upper atmosphere, which contains very few gases heavier than hydrogen and helium due to its low temperature. Uranus's atmosphere is the coldest of all the planets, with its temperature reaching as low as 49 K.

The Uranian atmosphere can be divided into three main layers: the troposphere, between altitudes of −300 and 50 km and pressures from 100 to 0.1 bar; the stratosphere, spanning altitudes between 50 and 4000 km and pressures of between 0.1 and 10−10 bar; and the hot thermosphere (and exosphere) extending from an altitude of 4,000 km to several Uranian radii from the nominal surface at 1 bar pressure. Unlike Earth's, Uranus's atmosphere has no mesosphere.

The troposphere hosts four cloud layers: methane clouds at about 1.2 bar, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia clouds at 3–10 bar, ammonium hydrosulfide clouds at 20–40 bar, and finally water clouds below 50 bar. Only the upper two cloud layers have been observed directly—the deeper clouds remain speculative. Above the clouds lie several tenuous layers of photochemical haze. Discrete bright tropospheric clouds are rare on Uranus, probably due to sluggish convection in the planet's interior. Nevertheless, observations of such clouds were used to measure the planet's zonal winds, which are remarkably fast with speeds up to 240 m/s.

Little is known about the Uranian atmosphere as to date only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which passed by the planet in 1986, obtained some valuable compositional data. No other missions to Uranus are currently scheduled.


BepiColombo is a joint mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to the planet Mercury. The mission comprises two satellites launched together: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mio (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO). The mission will perform a comprehensive study of Mercury, including characterization of its magnetic field, magnetosphere, and both interior and surface structure. It was launched on an Ariane 5 rocket on 20 October 2018 at 01:45 UTC, with an arrival at Mercury planned for December 2025, after a flyby of Earth, two flybys of Venus, and six flybys of Mercury. The mission was approved in November 2009, after years in proposal and planning as part of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000+ programme; it is the last mission of the programme to be launched.

Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph

The Europa Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS) is an ultraviolet spectrograph imager that will be flown on board the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. The Europa-UVS will be able to detect small erupting plumes and will provide data about the composition and dynamics of Europa's thin exosphere.

The Principal Investigator is Kurt Retherford of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and the instrument engineer is Laura Jones-Wilson from JPL.

Exosphere (horse)

Exosphere (foaled 25 August 2012) is a retired Thoroughbred racehorse trained and bred in Australia. He won the Golden Rose Stakes, a Group one race, and accumulated over a million dollars in winnings. He was known for his large size.

Exploration of Mercury

The exploration of Mercury has played only a minor role in the space interests of the world. It is the least explored inner planet. As of 2015, the Mariner 10 and MESSENGER missions have been the only missions that have made close observations of Mercury. MESSENGER made three flybys before entering orbit around Mercury. A third mission to Mercury, BepiColombo, a joint mission between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the European Space Agency, is to include two probes. MESSENGER and BepiColombo are intended to gather complementary data to help scientists understand many of the mysteries discovered by Mariner 10's flybys.

Compared to other planets, Mercury is difficult to explore. The increased speed required to reach it is relatively high, and due to the proximity to the Sun, orbits around it are rather unstable. MESSENGER was the first probe to orbit Mercury.

Explorer 9

Explorer 9, known as S-56A before launch, was an American satellite which was launched in 1961 to study the density and composition of the upper thermosphere and lower exosphere. It was a reflight of the failed S-56 mission, and consisted of a 7-kilogram (15 lb), 3.7-meter (12 ft) balloon which was deployed into a medium Earth orbit. The mission was conducted by NASA's Langley Research Center.


The geocorona is the luminous part of the outermost region of the Earth's atmosphere, the exosphere. It is seen primarily via far-ultraviolet light (Lyman-alpha) from the Sun that is scattered from neutral hydrogen. It extends to at least 15.5 Earth radii and probably up to about 100 Earth radii. The geocorona has been studied from outer space by the Astrid satellites and the Galileo spacecraft (among others), using its ultraviolet spectrometer (UVS) during an Earth flyby.

HD 209458 b

HD 209458 b, also given the nickname Osiris, is an exoplanet that orbits the solar analog HD 209458 in the constellation Pegasus, some 159 light-years from the Solar System. The radius of the planet's orbit is 7 million kilometres, about 0.047 astronomical units, or one eighth the radius of Mercury's orbit. This small radius results in a year that is 3.5 Earth days long and an estimated surface temperature of about 1,000 °C (about 1,800 °F). Its mass is 220 times that of Earth (0.69 Jupiter masses) and its volume is some 2.5 times greater than that of Jupiter. The high mass and volume of HD 209458 b indicate that it is a gas giant.

HD 209458 b represents a number of milestones in extraplanetary research. It was the first of many categories:

a transiting extrasolar planet

the first planet detected through more than one method

an extrasolar planet known to have an atmosphere

an extrasolar planet observed to have an evaporating hydrogen atmosphere

an extrasolar planet found to have an atmosphere containing oxygen and carbon

one of the first two extrasolar planets to be directly observed spectroscopically

the first extrasolar gas giant to have its superstorm measured

the first planet to have its orbital speed measured, determining its mass directly.Based on the application of new, theoretical models, as of April 2007, it is thought to be the first extrasolar planet found to have water vapor in its atmosphere.In July, 2014, NASA announced finding very dry atmospheres on HD 209458 b and two other exoplanets (HD 189733 b and WASP-12b) orbiting Sun-like stars.

Interior Characterization of Europa using Magnetometry

The Interior Characterization of Europa using Magnetometry (ICEMAG) is a multi-frequency magnetometer that was proposed to be flown on board the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter's moon Europa, but its inclusion was cancelled in March 2019. Magnetic induction is a powerful tool for probing the subsurface and determine Europa's ocean depth, salinity, and ice shell thickness, as well as detecting erupting plume activity.

The Principal Investigator is Carol Raymond, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.On March 5, 2019, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, announced that ICEMAG would no longer be part of the Europa Clipper mission, primarily citing recurring cost increases (over three times the original cost put forward in the proposal). A less complex magnetometer will be included on the mission.


The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE ) was a NASA lunar exploration and technology demonstration mission. It was launched on a Minotaur V rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on September 7, 2013. During its seven-month mission, LADEE orbited around the Moon's equator, using its instruments to study the lunar exosphere and dust in the Moon's vicinity. Instruments included a dust detector, neutral mass spectrometer, and ultraviolet-visible spectrometer, as well as a technology demonstration consisting of a laser communications terminal. The mission ended on April 18, 2014, when the spacecraft's controllers intentionally crashed LADEE into the far side of the Moon, which, later, was determined to be near the eastern rim of Sundman V crater.

Laboratoire atmosphères, milieux, observations spatiales

The Laboratoire atmosphères, milieux, observations spatiales (LATMOS) is a French research laboratory specialized in the study of the physical and chemical processes of the Earth's atmosphere, the study of planets and small bodies of the solar system (atmospheres, surfaces, sub-surfaces) as well as the physics of the heliosphere, the exosphere of the planets and the plasmas of the solar system. It employs 230 people.

Mercury (planet)

Mercury is the smallest and innermost planet in the Solar System. Its orbital period around the Sun of 87.97 days is the shortest of all the planets in the Solar System. It is named after the Roman deity Mercury, the messenger of the gods.

Like Venus, Mercury orbits the Sun within Earth's orbit as an inferior planet, and never exceeds 28° away from the Sun when viewed from Earth. This proximity to the Sun means the planet can only be seen near the western or eastern horizon during the early evening or early morning. At this time it may appear as a bright star-like object, but is often far more difficult to observe than Venus. The planet telescopically displays the complete range of phases, similar to Venus and the Moon, as it moves in its inner orbit relative to Earth, which reoccurs over the so-called synodic period approximately every 116 days.

Mercury is tidally locked with the Sun in a 3:2 spin-orbit resonance, and rotates in a way that is unique in the Solar System. As seen relative to the fixed stars, it rotates on its axis exactly three times for every two revolutions it makes around the Sun. As seen from the Sun, in a frame of reference that rotates with the orbital motion, it appears to rotate only once every two Mercurian years. An observer on Mercury would therefore see only one day every two Mercurian years.

Mercury's axis has the smallest tilt of any of the Solar System's planets (about ​1⁄30 degree). Its orbital eccentricity is the largest of all known planets in the Solar System; at perihelion, Mercury's distance from the Sun is only about two-thirds (or 66%) of its distance at aphelion. Mercury's surface appears heavily cratered and is similar in appearance to the Moon's, indicating that it has been geologically inactive for billions of years. Having almost no atmosphere to retain heat, it has surface temperatures that vary diurnally more than on any other planet in the Solar System, ranging from 100 K (−173 °C; −280 °F) at night to 700 K (427 °C; 800 °F) during the day across the equatorial regions. The polar regions are constantly below 180 K (−93 °C; −136 °F). The planet has no known natural satellites.

Two spacecraft have visited Mercury: Mariner 10 flew by in 1974 and 1975; and MESSENGER, launched in 2004, orbited Mercury over 4,000 times in four years before exhausting its fuel and crashing into the planet's surface on April 30, 2015. The BepiColombo spacecraft is planned to arrive at Mercury in 2025.


The thermopause is the atmospheric boundary of Earth's energy system, located at the top of the thermosphere. The temperature of the thermopause could range from nearly absolute zero to 987.548 °C (1,810 °F).

Below this, the atmosphere is defined to be active on the insolation received, due to the increased presence of heavier gases such as monatomic oxygen. The solar constant is thus expressed at the thermopause. Beyond (above) this, the exosphere describes the thinnest remainder of atmospheric particles with large mean free path, mostly hydrogen and helium. As a limit for the exosphere this boundary is also called exobase.The exact altitude varies by the energy inputs of location, time of day, solar flux, season, etc. and can be between 500 and 1,000 kilometres (310 and 620 mi) high at a given place and time because of these. A portion of the magnetosphere dips below this layer as well.

Although these are all named layers of the atmosphere, the pressure is so negligible that the chiefly-used definitions of outer space are actually below this altitude. Orbiting satellites do not experience significant atmospheric heating, but their orbits do decay over time, depending on orbit altitude. Space missions such as the ISS, space shuttle, and Soyuz operate under this layer.


The thermosphere is the layer in the Earth's atmosphere directly above the mesosphere and below the exosphere. Within this layer of the atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation causes photoionization/photodissociation of molecules, creating ions in the ionosphere. Taking its name from the Greek θερμός (pronounced thermos) meaning heat, the thermosphere begins at about 80 km (50 mi) above sea level. At these high altitudes, the residual atmospheric gases sort into strata according to molecular mass (see turbosphere). Thermospheric temperatures increase with altitude due to absorption of highly energetic solar radiation. Temperatures are highly dependent on solar activity, and can rise to 1,700 °C (3,100 °F) or more. Radiation causes the atmosphere particles in this layer to become electrically charged (see ionosphere), enabling radio waves to be refracted and thus be received beyond the horizon. In the exosphere, beginning at about 600 km (375 mi) above sea level, the atmosphere turns into space, although by the criteria set for the definition of the Kármán line, the thermosphere itself is part of space.

The highly diluted gas in this layer can reach 2,500 °C (4,530 °F) during the day. Despite the high temperature, an observer or object will experience cold temperatures in the thermosphere, because the extremely low density of gas (practically a hard vacuum) is insufficient for the molecules to conduct heat. A normal thermometer will read significantly below 0 °C (32 °F), at least at night, because the energy lost by thermal radiation would exceed the energy acquired from the atmospheric gas by direct contact. In the anacoustic zone above 160 kilometres (99 mi), the density is so low that molecular interactions are too infrequent to permit the transmission of sound.

The dynamics of the thermosphere are dominated by atmospheric tides, which are driven by the very significant diurnal heating. Atmospheric waves dissipate above this level because of collisions between the neutral gas and the ionospheric plasma.

The International Space Station orbits the Earth within the middle of the thermosphere, between 330 and 435 kilometres (205 and 270 mi).

Upper-atmospheric models

Upper-atmospheric models are simulations of the Earth's atmosphere between 20 and 100 km (65,000 and 328,000 feet) that comprises the stratosphere, mesosphere, and the lower thermosphere. Whereas most climate models simulate a region of the Earth's atmosphere from the surface to the stratopause, there also exist numerical models which simulate the wind, temperature and composition of the Earth's tenuous upper atmosphere, from the mesosphere to the exosphere, including the ionosphere. This region is affected strongly by the 11 year Solar cycle through variations in solar UV/EUV/Xray radiation and solar wind leading to high latitude particle precipitation and aurora. It has been proposed that these phenomena may have an effect on the lower atmosphere, and should therefore be included in simulations of climate change. For this reason there has been a drive in recent years to create whole atmosphere models to investigate whether or not this is the case.

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