What is the Mesosphere?

By Giulia Graziati, Writer. April 12, 2023
What is the Mesosphere?

The mesosphere, which lies between the stratosphere and the thermosphere, is an important layer of the Earth's atmosphere. Although the mesosphere is less talked about compared to other atmospheric layers, it plays a critical role in protecting life on Earth by shielding the planet from meteorites. In addition, the mesosphere is the coldest region of the atmosphere, which makes it an interesting object of study for scientists.

In this article, we will take a closer look at what is the mesosphere and provide a comprehensive understanding of its characteristics, functions, and importance.

You may also be interested in: What Is the Rodinia Supercontinent?

What is the atmosphere?

The atmosphere is the layer of gasses that surrounds the Earth and is held in place by the planet's gravity. It extends from the Earth's surface to an altitude of about 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) and is composed primarily of nitrogen (about 78%) and oxygen (about 21%), with small amounts of other gasses such as argon, carbon dioxide, and neon. The atmosphere also contains solid and liquid particles, such as water vapor, dust, and pollutants.

The atmosphere plays a critical role in life on Earth by providing oxygen for breathing and regulating temperature and climate. It absorbs and scatters solar radiation, regulates the amount of heat that reaches the surface, and prevents harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the Earth's surface.

The atmosphere also acts as a shield against space debris and meteorites by burning them before they can hit the Earth's surface.

The Earth's atmosphere is classified into five horizontal layers based on the temperature changes that occur with increasing altitude. These layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.

You may also be interested in this other article where we talk about what climate is and what types of climate there are.

What is the mesosphere?

The mesosphere is a layer of the Earth's atmosphere that extends from about 50 to 85 kilometers (31 to 53 miles) above the Earth's surface. The mesosphere consists mainly of oxygen, nitrogen, and small amounts of other gasses such as carbon dioxide and helium.

The mesosphere is situated between the stratosphere and the thermosphere and is known for its extremely low temperatures that can reach as low as -225°F (-143°C) at its upper boundary. Its distinctive feature is the decrease in temperature with increasing altitude, which is used to define its boundaries.

The mesosphere begins at the top of the stratosphere and extends up to the mesopause, the coldest part of the Earth's atmosphere. However, it is worth noting that the exact limits of the mesosphere are not fixed and may vary depending on the latitude and season. In general, the mesosphere extends higher in winter and tropical regions, while in summer and at the poles, it has a lower boundary.

It is an important atmospheric layer because it serves as a protective barrier, absorbing and decomposing most meteoroids before they can reach the Earth's surface.

Characteristics of the mesosphere

The mesosphere is a layer of Earth's atmosphere that is about 50 to 85 kilometers (31 to 53 miles) above the Earth's surface. Here are some features of the mesosphere:

  • Temperature: the temperature in the mesosphere decreases with altitude, reaching as low as -100 degrees Celsius (-148 degrees Fahrenheit) at the top of the layer.

  • Pressure: the pressure in the mesosphere is extremely low, about 0.1% of the pressure at the Earth's surface.

  • Composition of air: the mesosphere contains mainly molecular nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2), as well as traces of other gasses such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

  • Air density: the density of air in the mesosphere is very low and decreases with increasing altitude.

  • Meteoroids: the mesosphere is the layer of the atmosphere in which meteoroids burn up as they enter the Earth's atmosphere, producing the visible phenomenon known as shooting stars.

  • Noctilucent clouds: the mesosphere is the only atmospheric layer in which noctilucent clouds, thin, luminous clouds that form at high altitudes, can be seen.

The mesosphere is a relatively thin and cold layer of the atmosphere that plays a unique role in a variety of atmospheric phenomena.

Importance of the mesosphere

Although the mesosphere is the least understood and least explored layer of the Earth's atmosphere, it plays a significant role in several important phenomena. Here are some of the key ways in which the mesosphere is important:

  • Protection from meteorites: the mesosphere plays a critical role in protecting the Earth from meteorites and other space objects. When these objects enter the Earth's atmosphere, they burn up and disintegrate in the mesosphere, preventing most of them from reaching the Earth's surface and potentially causing damage.

  • Climate regulation: cooling of the mesosphere is an critical factor in regulating Earth's climate. Cooling of the mesosphere causes a decrease in temperature in the upper part of the atmosphere, which affects atmospheric circulation patterns and cloud formation in the troposphere. These changes have a significant impact on global climate and weather patterns.

  • Observation of Natural Phenomena: the mesosphere is the site of several fascinating natural phenomena, such as the aurora borealis and noctilucent clouds. The study of these phenomena can provide valuable insights into the workings of the Earth's atmosphere and the effects of human activities on the environment.

  • Communication: the mesosphere contains a layer known as the ionosphere, which reflects radio waves and allows communication over long distances. This property of the mesosphere is essential for applications such as high-frequency radio and television and satellite communications.

Although the mesosphere is less studied and less known than other atmospheric layers, it plays a critical role in the functioning of our planet. You may be interested in this other article where we explain what the magnetosphere is, its functions and importance.

What is the Mesosphere? - Importance of the mesosphere

If you want to read similar articles to What is the Mesosphere?, we recommend you visit our Facts about Earth and the universe category.

  • Anasimele, G. P. (2022). “Analysis of winds and tides in the mesosphere and lower thermosphere over the Argentine Patagonian Region” (Doctoral dissertation, National University of La Plata).
  • Pinedo Nava, HO (2021). “Studies of the North Polar Mesosphere with EISCAT's Radar and Artificial Electron Heater”.

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