The Moon's Atmosphere

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: How Earth & the Sun Affect the Phases of the Moon

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 The Moon's Atmosphere
  • 0:56 Properties of the…
  • 2:32 The Moon's Gases
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will go over the lunar atmosphere, its composition, where it gets it atmosphere from, how it may lose its atmosphere, and what the technical term for the lunar atmosphere is.

The Moon's Atmosphere

I bet that somewhere in your home or place of work there is a box about the size of a meter on each side. A meter is a bit more than three feet in length. If you do have such a box, you can probably see that it's not that big. That box, one meter to each side, can contain almost the entire lunar atmosphere if it were to be compressed to the density of water. Lunar means pertaining to the moon, just in case you weren't sure.

By contrast, if Earth's atmosphere were compacted into such a dense state, it would fill a cube that is 100 miles on each side, as opposed to one meter. Quite clearly, the moon doesn't have much in the way of an atmosphere. Its density at the surface is like the density of the Earth's atmosphere where the International Space Station orbits. Nevertheless, there is enough interesting stuff about the lunar atmosphere that can fit into this lesson.

Properties of the Lunar Atmosphere

The lunar atmosphere is composed largely of helium, neon, argon, and hydrogen. Some molecules of ammonia, methane, potassium, sodium, and carbon dioxide may exist as well. The mass of this thin atmosphere is a few thousand kilograms. Again, that's not a lot. Actually, there is so little that we seriously polluted the lunar atmosphere during the Apollo missions to the moon. You thought we've damaged our planet's atmosphere with all that exhaust coming out of cars, planes, and factories; the moon has suffered a lot too. Luckily enough, the moon is so cold that many of the pollutants we put into the lunar atmosphere froze and dropped to the lunar surface.

The reason the moon is so cold is because its atmosphere's so thin! The atmosphere is like the insulation in the wall of your home. If it's thick, it will keep the heat in and the cold out in the winter. If you've got thin layers of insulation, you may have ice forming inside the home! Because of this thin atmosphere, the temperature on the moon varies dramatically. When it's hot, it's a blistering 400 Kelvin (260 Fahrenheit), when it's cold, it's a freezing 100 Kelvin (-280 Fahrenheit). The 300 Kelvin difference is humongous compared to the average temperature fluctuations of less than 20 Kelvin (36 Fahrenheit) between night and day on Earth.

If there's any upside to this crazy lack of any significant atmosphere and the consequences thereof, it's that the sky on the moon is always black and starry, even at high noon.

The Moon's Gases

So, where does this thin atmosphere even come from? The hydrogen and helium is captured from the passing solar wind, and the argon and helium is produced through radioactive decay of rocks on the moon's surface. You'd think that these two things would, over millions of years, build up a big enough atmosphere.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support