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.[1] 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).

Earth atmosphere diagram showing all the layers of the atmosphere to scale

Neutral gas constituents

It is convenient to separate the atmospheric regions according to the two temperature minima at about 12 km altitude (the tropopause) and at about 85 km (the mesopause) (Figure 1). The thermosphere (or the upper atmosphere) is the height region above 85 km, while the region between the tropopause and the mesopause is the middle atmosphere (stratosphere and mesosphere) where absorption of solar UV radiation generates the temperature maximum near 45 km altitude and causes the ozone layer.

Nomenclature of Thermosphere
Figure 1. Nomenclature of atmospheric regions based on the profiles of electric conductivity (left), temperature (middle), and electron number density in m−3(right)

The density of the Earth's atmosphere decreases nearly exponentially with altitude. The total mass of the atmosphere is M = ρA H  ≃ 1 kg/cm2 within a column of one square centimeter above the ground (with ρA = 1.29 kg/m3 the atmospheric density on the ground at z = 0 m altitude, and H ≃ 8 km the average atmospheric scale height). 80% of that mass is concentrated within the troposphere. The mass of the thermosphere above about 85 km is only 0.002% of the total mass. Therefore, no significant energetic feedback from the thermosphere to the lower atmospheric regions can be expected.

Turbulence causes the air within the lower atmospheric regions below the turbopause at about 110 km to be a mixture of gases that does not change its composition. Its mean molecular weight is 29 g/mol with molecular oxygen (O2) and nitrogen (N2) as the two dominant constituents. Above the turbopause, however, diffusive separation of the various constituents is significant, so that each constituent follows its own barometric height structure with a scale height inversely proportional to its molecular weight. The lighter constituents atomic oxygen (O), helium (He), and hydrogen (H) successively dominate above about 200 km altitude and vary with geographic location, time, and solar activity. The ratio N2/O which is a measure of the electron density at the ionospheric F region is highly affected by these variations.[2] These changes follow from the diffusion of the minor constituents through the major gas component during dynamic processes.

The thermosphere contains an appreciable concentration of elemental sodium located in a 10-km thick band that occurs at the edge of the mesosphere, 80 to 100 km above Earth's surface. The sodium has an average concentration of 400,000 atoms per cubic centimeter. This band is regularly replenished by sodium sublimating from incoming meteors. Astronomers have begun utilizing this sodium band to create "guide stars" as part of the optical correction process in producing ultra-sharp ground-based observations.[3]

Energy input

Energy budget

The thermospheric temperature can be determined from density observations as well as from direct satellite measurements. The temperature vs. altitude z in Fig. 1 can be simulated by the so-called Bates profile:[4]


with T the exospheric temperature above about 400 km altitude, To = 355 K, and zo = 120 km reference temperature and height, and s an empirical parameter depending on T and decreasing with T. That formula is derived from a simple equation of heat conduction. One estimates a total heat input of qo≃ 0.8 to 1.6 mW/m2 above zo = 120 km altitude. In order to obtain equilibrium conditions, that heat input qo above zo is lost to the lower atmospheric regions by heat conduction.

The exospheric temperature T is a fair measurement of the solar XUV radiation. Since solar radio emission F at 10.7 cm wavelength is a good indicator of solar activity, one can apply the empirical formula for quiet magnetospheric conditions.[5]


with T in K, Fo in 10−2 W m−2 Hz−1 (the Covington index) a value of F averaged over several solar cycles. The Covington index varies typically between 70 and 250 during a solar cycle, and never drops below about 50. Thus, T varies between about 740 and 1350 K. During very quiet magnetospheric conditions, the still continuously flowing magnetospheric energy input contributes by about 250 K to the residual temperature of 500 K in eq.(2). The rest of 250 K in eq.(2) can be attributed to atmospheric waves generated within the troposphere and dissipated within the lower thermosphere.

Solar XUV radiation

The solar X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) at wavelengths < 170 nm is almost completely absorbed within the thermosphere. This radiation causes the various ionospheric layers as well as a temperature increase at these heights (Figure 1). While the solar visible light (380 to 780 nm) is nearly constant with a variability of not more than about 0.1% of the solar constant,[6] the solar XUV radiation is highly variable in time and space. For instance, X-ray bursts associated with solar flares can dramatically increase their intensity over preflare levels by many orders of magnitude over a time span of tens of minutes. In the extreme ultraviolet, the Lyman α line at 121.6 nm represents an important source of ionization and dissociation at ionospheric D layer heights.[7] During quiet periods of solar activity, it alone contains more energy than the rest of the XUV spectrum. Quasi-periodic changes of the order of 100% or greater, with periods of 27 days and 11 years, belong to the prominent variations of solar XUV radiation. However, irregular fluctuations over all time scales are present all the time.[8] During low solar activity, about half of the total energy input into the thermosphere is thought to be solar XUV radiation. Evidently, that solar XUV energy input occurs only during daytime conditions, maximizing at the equator during equinox.

Solar wind

A second source of energy input into the thermosphere is solar wind energy which is transferred to the magnetosphere by mechanisms that are not well understood. One possible way to transfer energy is via a hydrodynamic dynamo process. Solar wind particles penetrate into the polar regions of the magnetosphere where the geomagnetic field lines are essentially vertically directed. An electric field is generated, directed from dawn to dusk. Along the last closed geomagnetic field lines with their footpoints within the auroral zones, field aligned electric currents can flow into the ionospheric dynamo region where they are closed by electric Pedersen and Hall currents. Ohmic losses of the Pedersen currents heat the lower thermosphere (see e.g., Magnetospheric electric convection field). In addition, penetration of high energetic particles from the magnetosphere into the auroral regions enhance drastically the electric conductivity, further increasing the electric currents and thus Joule heating. During quiet magnetospheric activity, the magnetosphere contributes perhaps by a quarter to the thermosphere's energy budget.[9] This is about 250 K of the exospheric temperature in eq.(2). During very large activity, however, this heat input can increase substantially, by a factor of four or more. That solar wind input occurs mainly in the auroral regions during both day and night.

Atmospheric waves

Two kinds of large-scale atmospheric waves within the lower atmosphere exist: internal waves with finite vertical wavelengths which can transport wave energy upward; and external waves with infinitely large wavelengths which cannot transport wave energy.[10] Atmospheric gravity waves and most of the atmospheric tides generated within the troposphere belong to the internal waves. Their density amplitudes increase exponentially with height, so that at the mesopause these waves become turbulent and their energy is dissipated (similar to breaking of ocean waves at the coast), thus contributing to the heating of the thermosphere by about 250 K in eq.(2). On the other hand, the fundamental diurnal tide labelled (1, −2) which is most efficiently excited by solar irradiance is an external wave and plays only a marginal role within lower and middle atmosphere. However, at thermospheric altitudes, it becomes the predominant wave. It drives the electric Sq-current within the ionospheric dynamo region between about 100 and 200 km height.

Heating, predominately by tidal waves, occurs mainly at lower and middle latitudes. The variability of this heating depends on the meteorological conditions within troposphere and middle atmosphere, and may not exceed about 50%.


Figure 2. Schematic meridian-height cross-section of circulation of (a) symmetric wind component (P20), (b) of antisymmetric wind component (P10), and (d) of symmetric diurnal wind component (P11) at 3 h and 15 h local time. Upper right pannel (c) shows the horizontal wind vectors of the diurnal component in the northern hemisphere depending on local time.

Within the thermosphere above about 150 km height, all atmospheric waves successively become external waves, and no significant vertical wave structure is visible. The atmospheric wave modes degenerate to the spherical functions Pnm with m a meridional wave number and n the zonal wave number (m = 0: zonal mean flow; m = 1: diurnal tides; m = 2: semidiurnal tides; etc.). The thermosphere becomes a damped oscillator system with low-pass filter characteristics. This means that smaller-scale waves (greater numbers of (n,m)) and higher frequencies are suppressed in favor of large-scale waves and lower frequencies. If one considers very quiet magnetospheric disturbances and a constant mean exospheric temperature (averaged over the sphere), the observed temporal and spatial distribution of the exospheric temperature distribution can be described by a sum of spheric functions:[11]


Here, it is φ latitude, λ longitude, and t time, ωa the angular frequency of one year, ωd the angular frequency of one solar day, and τ = ωdt + λ the local time. ta = June 21 is the date of northern summer solstice, and τd = 15:00 is the local time of maximum diurnal temperature.

The first term in (3) on the right is the global mean of the exospheric temperature (of the order of 1000 K). The second term [with P20 = 0.5(3 sin2(φ)−1)] represents the heat surplus at lower latitudes and a corresponding heat deficit at higher latitudes (Fig. 2a). A thermal wind system develops with wind toward the poles in the upper level and wind away from the poles in the lower level. The coefficient ΔT20 ≈ 0.004 is small because Joule heating in the aurora regions compensates that heat surplus even during quiet magnetospheric conditions. During disturbed conditions, however, that term becomes dominant, changing sign so that now heat surplus is transported from the poles to the equator. The third term (with P10 = sin φ) represents heat surplus on the summer hemisphere and is responsible for the transport of excess heat from the summer into the winter hemisphere (Fig. 2b). Its relative amplitude is of the order ΔT10 ≃ 0.13. The fourth term (with P11(φ) = cos φ) is the dominant diurnal wave (the tidal mode (1,−2)). It is responsible for the transport of excess heat from the daytime hemisphere into the nighttime hemisphere (Fig. 2d). Its relative amplitude is ΔT11≃ 0.15, thus on the order of 150 K. Additional terms (e.g., semiannual, semidiurnal terms and higher order terms) must be added to eq.(3). However, they are of minor importance. Corresponding sums can be developed for density, pressure, and the various gas constituents.[5][12]

Thermospheric storms

In contrast to solar XUV radiation, magnetospheric disturbances, indicated on the ground by geomagnetic variations, show an unpredictable impulsive character, from short periodic disturbances of the order of hours to long-standing giant storms of several days' duration. The reaction of the thermosphere to a large magnetospheric storm is called thermospheric storm. Since the heat input into the thermosphere occurs at high latitudes (mainly into the auroral regions), the heat transport represented by the term P20 in eq.(3) is reversed. In addition, due to the impulsive form of the disturbance, higher-order terms are generated which, however, possess short decay times and thus quickly disappear. The sum of these modes determines the "travel time" of the disturbance to the lower latitudes, and thus the response time of the thermosphere with respect to the magnetospheric disturbance. Important for the development of an ionospheric storm is the increase of the ratio N2/O during a thermospheric storm at middle and higher latitude.[13] An increase of N2 increases the loss process of the ionospheric plasma and causes therefore a decrease of the electron density within the ionospheric F-layer (negative ionospheric storm).

See also

  • Cumulus clouds in fair weather.jpeg Atmospheric sciences portal


  1. ^ Duxbury & Duxbury. Introduction to the World's Oceans. 5ed. (1997)
  2. ^ Prölss, G.W. and M. K. Bird, "Physics of the Earth's Space Environment", Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, 2010
  3. ^ Martin Enderlein et al., ESO's Very Large Telescope sees four times first light, Laser Focus World, July 2016, pp. 22-24
  4. ^ Rawer, K., Modelling of neutral and ionized atmospheres, in Flügge, S. (ed): Encycl. Phys., 49/7, Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, 223
  5. ^ a b Hedin,A.E., A revised thermospheric model based on mass spectrometer and incoherent scatter data: MSIS-83 J. Geophys. Res., 88, 10170, 1983
  6. ^ Willson, R.C., Measurements of the solar total irradiance and its variability, Space Sci. Rev., 38, 203, 1984
  7. ^ Brasseur, G., and S. Salomon, "Aeronomy of the Middle Atmosphere", Reidel Pub., Dordrecht, 1984
  8. ^ Schmidtke, G., Modelling of the solar radiation for aeronomical applications, in Flügge, S. (ed), Encycl. Phys. 49/7, Springer Verlag, Heidelberg, 1
  9. ^ Knipp, D.J., W.K. Tobiska, and B.A. Emery, Direct and indirect thermospheric heating source for solar cycles, Solar Phys., 224, 2506, 2004
  10. ^ Volland, H., "Atmospheric Tidal and Planetary Waves", Kluwer, Dordrecht, 1988
  11. ^ Köhnlein, W., A model of thermospheric temperature and composition, Planet. Space Sci. 28, 225, 1980
  12. ^ von Zahn, U., et al., ESRO-4 model of global thermospheric composition and temperatures during low solar activity, Geophy. Res. Lett., 4, 33, 1977
  13. ^ Prölss, G.W., Density perturbations in the upper atmosphere caused by dissipation of solar wind energy, Surv. Geophys., 32, 101, 2011

Aeronomy is the meteorological science of the upper region of the Earth's or other planetary atmospheres, which relates to the atmospheric motions, its chemical composition and properties, and the reaction to it from the environment from space. The term aeronomy was introduced by Sydney Chapman in a Letter to the Editor of Nature entitled Some Thoughts on Nomenclature in 1946. Studies within the subject also investigate the causes of dissociation or ionization processes.Today the term also includes the science of the corresponding regions of the atmospheres of other planets. Aeronomy is a branch of atmospheric physics. Research in aeronomy requires access to balloons, satellites, and sounding rockets which provide valuable data about this region of the atmosphere. Atmospheric tides dominate the dynamics of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere, essential to understanding the atmosphere as a whole. Other phenomena studied are upper-atmospheric lightning discharges, such as red sprites, sprite halos or blue jets.

Ariel 3

Ariel 3 was the first artificial satellite designed and constructed in the United Kingdom. it was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on 5 May 1967 aboard a Scout rocket. Ariel 3 had an orbital period of approximately 95 minutes, with an apogee of 608 km and a perigee of 497 km. It initially spun at 31 rpm for stability, though by the time the Ariel 3 deorbited, it had slowed to a rate of about 1 rpm.Ariel 3 carried five experiments. The experiments measured properties of the thermosphere as well as detected "terrestrial radio noise" from thunderstorms and measured large-scale galactic radio frequency noise. Experimental data was recorded on an onboard tape recorder, then later transmitted to waiting observers on Earth. Ariel 3 was also fitted with a series of mirrors to allow easy observation of the satellite. On 24 October 1967 the tape recorder aboard Ariel 3 began to malfunction. This restricted observation to real-time operation only. Ariel 3 suffered from a significant power failure in December 1968, restricting the satellite's operation to daylight hours only. The satellite was completely shut down in September 1969. Its orbit decayed steadily until on 14 December 1970 when Ariel 3 re-entered Earth's atmosphere.

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 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.

Community Earth System Model

The Community Earth System Model (CESM) is a fully coupled numerical simulation of the Earth system consisting of atmospheric, ocean, ice, land surface, carbon cycle, and other components. CESM includes a climate model providing state-of-art simulations of the Earth's past, present, and future. It is the successor of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), specifically version 4 (CCSMv4), which provided the initial atmospheric component for CESM. Strong ensemble forecasting capabilities, CESM-LE (CESM-Large Ensemble), were developed at the onset to control for error and biases across different model runs (realizations). Simulations from the Earth's surface through the thermosphere are generated utilizing the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM). CESM1 was released in 2010 with primary development by the Climate and Global Dynamics Division (CGD) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and significant funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DoE).


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. 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.

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.

Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk

The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission is a heliophysics Mission of Opportunity for NASA’s Explorers program. Led by Richard Eastes at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, which is located at the University of Colorado, Boulder, GOLD's mission is to image the boundary between Earth and space in order to answer questions about the effects of solar and atmospheric variability of Earth's space weather. GOLD was one of 11 proposals selected, of the 42 submitted, for further study in September 2011. On 12 April 2013, NASA announced that GOLD, along with the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON), had been selected for flight in 2017. GOLD, along with its commercial host satellite SES-14, launched on 25 January 2018.

Ionosphere-Thermosphere Storm Probes

The Ionosphere-Thermosphere Storm Probes (I-TSP) is a NASA mission which will study the ionosphere and the thermosphere. This mission is part of the Living With a Star program, the second mission in a pair of geospace missions. The first mission is the Radiation Belt Storm Probes, which were launched in August 2012.

Kármán line

The Kármán line, or Karman line, is an attempt to define a boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This is important for legal and regulatory measures; aircraft and spacecraft fall under different jurisdictions and are subject to different treaties.

The Fédération aéronautique internationale (FAI; English: World Air Sports Federation), an international standard-setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, defines the Kármán line as the altitude of 100 kilometres (62 miles; 330,000 feet) above Earth's sea level. Other organizations do not use this definition. For instance, the US Air Force and NASA define the limit to be 50 miles (80 kilometres) above sea level for purposes of awarding personnel with outer space badges. There is no international law defining the edge of space, and therefore the limit of national airspace, and the US is resisting regulatory movement on this front.The line is named after Theodore von Kármán (1881–1963), a Hungarian American engineer and physicist, who was active primarily in aeronautics and astronautics. He was the first person to calculate at which altitude the atmosphere becomes too thin to support aeronautical flight and arrived at 83.6 km (51.9 mi) himself. The reason is that a vehicle at this altitude would have to travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift to support itself. The line is approximately at the turbopause, above which atmospheric gasses are not well-mixed. The mesopause atmospheric temperature minimum has been measured to vary from 85 to 100 km, which places the line at or near the bottom of the thermosphere.

List of heliophysics missions

This is a list of missions supporting heliophysics, including solar observatory missions, solar orbiters, and spacecraft studying the solar wind.


The mesopause is the point of minimum temperature at the boundary between the mesosphere and the thermosphere atmospheric regions. Due to the lack of solar heating and very strong radiative cooling from carbon dioxide, the mesosphere is the coldest region on Earth with temperatures as low as -100 °C (-148 °F or 173 K). The altitude of the mesopause for many years was assumed to be at around 85 km (53 mi.), but observations to higher altitudes and modeling studies in the last 10 years have shown that in fact the mesopause consists of two minima - one at about 85 km and a stronger minimum at about 100 km (62 mi).Another feature is that the summer mesopause is cooler than the winter (sometimes referred to as the mesopause anomaly). It is due to a summer-to-winter circulation giving rise to upwelling at the summer pole and downwelling at the winter pole. Air rising will expand and cool resulting in a cold summer mesopause and conversely downwelling air results in compression and associated increase in temperature at the winter mesopause. In the mesosphere the summer-to-winter circulation is due to gravity wave dissipation, which deposits momentum against the mean east-west flow, resulting in a small north-south circulation.In recent years the mesopause has also been the focus of studies on global climate change associated with increases in CO2. Unlike the troposphere, where greenhouse gases result in the atmosphere heating up, increased CO2 in the mesosphere acts to cool the atmosphere due to increased radiative emission. This results in a measurable effect - the mesopause should become cooler with increased CO2. Observations do show a decrease of temperature of the mesopause, though the magnitude of this decrease varies and is subject to further study. Modeling studies of this phenomenon have also been carried out.


The mesosphere (; from Greek mesos "middle" ) is the layer of the Earth's atmosphere that is directly above the stratosphere and directly below the thermosphere. In the mesosphere, temperature decreases as the altitude increases. This characteristic is used to define its limits: it begins at the top of the stratosphere (sometimes called the stratopause), and ends at the mesopause, which is the coldest part of Earth's atmosphere with temperatures below −143 °C (−225 °F; 130 K). The exact upper and lower boundaries of the mesosphere vary with latitude and with season (higher in winter and at the tropics, lower in summer and at the poles), but the lower boundary is usually located at heights from 50 to 65 kilometres (164,000 to 213,000 ft; 31 to 40 mi) above the Earth's surface and the upper boundary (mesopause) is usually around 85 to 100 kilometres (53 to 62 mi).The stratosphere and the mesosphere are collectively referred to as the "middle atmosphere", which spans heights from approximately 10 kilometres (33,000 ft; 6.2 mi) to 100 kilometres (62 mi; 330,000 ft). The mesopause, at an altitude of 80–90 km (50–56 mi), separates the mesosphere from the thermosphere—the second-outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere. This is also around the same altitude as the turbopause, below which different chemical species are well mixed due to turbulent eddies. Above this level the atmosphere becomes non-uniform; the scale heights of different chemical species differ by their molecular masses.

The term near space is also sometimes used. This term does not have a technical definition, but typically refers the region of the atmosphere up to 100 km (65,000 and 328,000 feet), roughly between the Armstrong limit (above which humans need a pressure suit to survive) up to the Kármán line where astrodynamics must take over from aerodynamics in order to achieve flight. The definition of near space can vary depending on the source, but in general near space comprises the altitudes above where commercial airliners fly but below orbiting satellites. Some sources distinguish between the terms "near space" and "upper atmosphere," so that only the layers closest to the Karman line are called near space.

Space Situational Awareness Programme

The Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Programme is the European Space Agency's initiative designed to support Europe's independent space access and utilization through the timely and accurate information delivery regarding the space environment, and particularly hazards to both in orbit and ground infrastructure. The SSA programme is split into three main segments:

Space weather (SWE) segment: monitoring the Sun, the solar wind, and in Earth's magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere, that can affect spaceborne and ground-based infrastructure or endanger human life or health

Near-Earth objects (NEO) segment: detecting natural objects, such as asteroids and comets, which can potentially impact Earth

Space surveillance and tracking (SST) segment: Tracking active and inactive satellites and space debris (collectively these items are referred to as Resident Space Objects (RSOs)).The SSA programme is being implemented as an optional ESA programme with financial participation by 14 Member States. The programme started in 2009 and its mandate was extended until 2019. The second phase of the programme received €46.5 million for the 2013–2016 period.

Student Nitric Oxide Explorer

The Student Nitric Oxide Explorer (SNOE), also known as Explorer 72 and STEDI 1, was a small scientific satellite which studied the concentration of nitric oxide in the thermosphere. It was launched in 1998 as part of NASA's Explorers program. The satellite was the first of three missions developed within the Student Explorer Demonstration Initiative (STEDI) funded by NASA. The satellite was developed by the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and had met its goals by the time its mission ended with reentry on December 13, 2003.


The TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) is an orbiter mission dedicated to study the dynamics of the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere (MLT) portion of the Earth's atmosphere. The mission was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on December 7, 2001 aboard a Delta II rocket launch vehicle. The project is sponsored and managed by NASA, while the spacecraft was designed and assembled by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. The mission has been extended several times, and has now collected data over an entire solar cycle, which helps in its goal to differentiate the Sun's effects on the atmosphere from other effects.


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 turbopause marks the altitude in the Earth's atmosphere below which turbulent mixing dominates. The region below the turbopause is known as the homosphere, where the chemical constituents are well mixed and display identical height distributions; in other words, the chemical composition of the atmosphere remains constant in this region for chemical species which have long mean residence times. Highly reactive chemicals tend to exhibit great concentration variability throughout the atmosphere, whereas unreactive species will exhibit more homogeneous concentrations. The region above the turbopause is the heterosphere, where molecular diffusion dominates and the chemical composition of the atmosphere varies according to chemical species.

The turbopause lies near the mesopause, at the intersection of the mesosphere and the thermosphere, at an altitude of roughly 100 km.

Wake Shield Facility

Wake Shield Facility is an experimental science platform that was placed in low Earth orbit by the Space Shuttle. It is a 3.7 meter (12 ft) diameter, free-flying stainless steel disk.

The WSF was deployed in the wake of the Space Shuttle at an orbital altitude of over 300 kilometers (186 mi), within the thermosphere, where the atmosphere is exceedingly tenuous. The forward edge of the WSF disk redirected atmospheric and other particles around the sides, leaving an "ultra-vacuum" in its wake. The resulting vacuum was used to study epitaxial film growth.

The WSF has flown into space three times, on board shuttle flights STS-60, STS-69 and STS-80. During STS-60, some hardware issues were experienced, and, as a result, the WSF was only deployed at the end of the shuttle's robotic arm. During the later missions, the WSF was deployed as a free-flying platform in the wake of the shuttle.

These flights proved the vacuum wake concept, and realized the space epitaxy concept by growing the first-ever crystalline semiconductor thin films in the vacuum of space. These included gallium arsenide (GaAs) and aluminum gallium arsenide (AlGaAs) depositions. These experiments have been used to develop better photocells and thin films. Among the potential resulting applications are artificial retinas made from tiny ceramic detectors.

Pre-flight calculations suggested that the pressure on the wake side could be decreased by some 6 orders of magnitude over the ambient pressure in low Earth orbit (from 10−8 to 10−14 Torr). Analysis of the pressure and temperature data gathered from the two flights concluded that the decrease was some 2 orders of magnitude (4 orders of magnitude less than expected).The Wake Shield is sponsored by the Space Processing Division in NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications. Wake Shield was designed, built and is operated by the Center for Advanced Materials (formerly Space Vacuum Epitaxy Center) at the University of Houston—a NASA Commercial Space Center—in conjunction with its industrial partner, Space Industries, Inc., also in Houston.

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