Mesosphere: Definition, Facts, Temperature & Characteristics

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Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

The atmosphere is made up of many layers, and in the middle is a mysterious layer known as the mesosphere. In this lesson, you will learn the characteristics of the mesosphere, its location within the atmosphere, and how scientists study it.

The Mesosphere: A Layer of Our Atmosphere

It's a clear, moonless night. You're looking up at the sky, watching the twinkling of the constellations, such as the Big Dipper and Orion. Suddenly, there is a burst of light as a shooting star flies overhead. It might never occur to you that you are looking through layers of gas to see that beautiful shooting star.

Our planet is surrounded by layers of gas called the atmosphere. We live in the layer where most of the water vapor resides, called the troposphere. Above that is a layer called the stratosphere, where the ozone layer that protects us from ultraviolet radiation is found. In the middle of our atmosphere is a layer called the mesosphere, where that beautiful shooting star occurs.

Mapping the Position of the Mesosphere

While we live in the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere closest to Earth, the third layer of the atmosphere is the mesosphere. The mesosphere begins around 31 miles above the earth's surface and extends about 53 miles, where the thermosphere begins. The atmosphere transitions from the stratosphere to the mesosphere at a boundary named the stratopause. The boundary between the mesosphere and the thermosphere is called the mesopause.

Since the mesosphere is in the middle of the atmosphere, it is challenging to study its characteristics. Airplanes and weather balloons cannot fly high enough to reach it, and satellites cannot see into it to directly measure its characteristics. What we do know about the mesosphere we have learned by firing rockets, called sounding rockets, through the atmosphere. These rockets are special because they can fly into the mesosphere without actually going into orbit.

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