Evolution of the Earth's Atmosphere: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Corrie Boone

Corrie holds master's in elementary education, taught elementary ESL in the public schools for 5 years, and recently was teaching EFL abroad.

Do you know the history of Earth's atmosphere? Did you know that there hasn't always been enough oxygen in the atmosphere for us to live? Keep reading to learn about how Earth's atmosphere has changed over the last 4.5 billion years!

Earth's Atmosphere

The atmosphere is the layer of gases that surrounds Earth and protects us, and contains the oxygen all plants and animals need to live. But did you know that the atmosphere hasn't always been this way? Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years and the atmosphere has gone through several changes since then. Today we're going to talk about all those changes!

The thin blue line is the atmosphere around Earth.
earths atmosphere

The Skin of Earth

The atmosphere of Earth is like the skin on your body. It absorbs heat from the Sun to keep us cool during the day. It also holds the right amount of heat in to keep us warm at night. And there's a part of the atmosphere called the ozone layer that protects Earth from radiation from the Sun. Without the atmosphere we have today, we wouldn't be able to survive on Earth.

However, the atmosphere hasn't always been this way. Since Earth's formation, there have been three distinctly different atmospheres.

First Atmosphere

Earth's first atmosphere started when the planet was formed, about 4.5 billion years ago, and lasted about 500 million years. This original atmosphere was mostly hydrogen and helium, with small amounts of other gases. However, very strong winds that come from the sun, called solar winds, blew these gases away from Earth and back into space. Today, Earth is protected from these winds by a magnetic field that developed later.

How scientists believe the magnetic field surrounding Earth looks. Earth is in the center.
earths magnetic field

Second Atmosphere

The second atmosphere lasted from 4 billion years ago to 2.5 billion years ago. This atmosphere was created mostly by volcanoes. Back then, Earth had a lot of volcanoes and they were very active, constantly releasing gases like carbon dioxide, water vapor, and ammonia. There was basically no oxygen at this time.

Over time, the water vapor condensed to form clouds. These clouds rained and rained to form the oceans, which dissolved some of the carbon dioxide. During this time, plants learned how to perform photosynthesis, which is the process of turning carbon dioxide to oxygen (which they still do today). Over more time, carbon dioxide was locked inside fossil fuels, rocks, and animal shells, while more and more oxygen was being produced.

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