Thermosphere: Definition, Facts, Composition & Temperature

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  • 0:00 Layers of the Atmosphere
  • 1:15 More Facts About the…
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

This lesson is about the thermosphere. We will learn what this layer of the atmosphere is, where it is, what it's made of and why it's called the thermosphere.

Layers of the Atmosphere

Look up at the sky. You probably see a soft blue, maybe with some clouds. It might be grey or rainy as shown here.

cloudy sky

But what's above that blue and cloud cover? That's what we're here to learn about today. Beyond those beautiful clouds are additional layers of atmosphere that we don't usually think about. In this lesson, we're going to cover the thermosphere, the layer of atmosphere right before we get to outer space.

To understand where the thermosphere is, we need to understand the other layers of the atmosphere starting from the Earth's surface. Near the surface to about 7 miles above is the troposphere. This is where clouds we see in the sky are. Near the edge of the troposphere and into the next layer, the stratosphere, which put simply, is where airplanes fly. The stratosphere extends from 7 miles above the surface to about 20 miles above the surface. After the stratosphere is the mesosphere, which extends upward to 50 miles above the surface.

After the mesosphere, we have our layer that we're focusing on today, the thermosphere. The thermosphere extends from about 50 miles above the surface of Earth to about 600 miles above our planet. Beyond that is the exosphere, which is the layer that turns into outer space at the edge.

More Facts About the Thermosphere

The thermosphere is the layer of the atmosphere directly below the exosphere. It's so far from Earth that it has many characteristics that we associate with outer space, even though the thermosphere is a layer of our atmosphere. In fact, space stations and space shuttles orbit Earth in the thermosphere, in addition to the exosphere.

The thermosphere has extremely high temperatures, coinciding with the prefix in its name, thermo, which means temperature. Temperatures can reach over 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high heat comes from the intense light rays, or radiation, from the sun. Since there is little to no atmospheric gases above the thermosphere, there is no absorption of the heat from solar radiation, and so temperatures soar. In lower layers of the atmosphere, as you increase in altitude, temperature decreases The thermosphere is the first layer to which this pattern does not apply.

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