Thermosphere Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Tammie Mihet

Tammie has taught elementary school for 14 yrs. and holds an MA in Instructional Technology

The Earth's atmosphere is not just one big sphere of air--according to scientists, it's made up of five distinct layers. In this lesson, you will gain greater knowledge of the fourth layer of Earth's atmosphere: the thermosphere.

What Is the Atmosphere?

Imagine making a five-layer cake. As you add on the layers, you make each one different from the rest: chocolate, vanilla, carrot, red velvet, and maybe even lemon. Each layer has its own distinct flavor, and piled high together, they make a beautiful, multicolored cake!

Think of the atmosphere as that cake. Earth's atmosphere, or the gases that surround the Earth, can be divided into five layers. Like your cake, each layer of the Earth's atmosphere is distinct and different. The five layers of the Earth's atmosphere starting at the Earth's surface and moving up are: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.

Layers of the atmosphere

In this lesson, we are going to spend some time getting to know the fourth layer: the thermosphere.

Thermosphere: The Solar Radiation Sponge

As solar radiation (energy from the sun) travels from the sun to Earth, it passes through the exosphere and enters the thermosphere. You can think of the thermosphere as a solar radiation sponge, because it absorbs the sun's radiation as it passes through. So, the thermosphere is very hot--it can reach more than 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit! Even at night it's usually about 1,000 degrees.

This heat is what gives the thermosphere its name: thermos is Greek for 'heat.' Absorbing all that heat from the sun also makes the thermosphere expand, or become bigger.

Northern and Southern Lights

During certain times of the year toward the Northern and Southern poles, the Earth's atmosphere puts on a brilliant light show! The sky fills with patches of dazzling colors like ribbons of light. It's a beautiful sight to behold! We call these light shows auroras, or more specifically, the Northern Lights and the Southern Lights.

The Northern Lights
Northern Lights

This fascinating painting of the night sky happens in the thermosphere and is caused by cosmic collisions. See, the Earth's atmosphere is made up of molecules, and these molecules are constantly colliding, or running into each other. Sometimes, molecules in the Earth's atmosphere even collide with molecules from space! These collisions excite the molecules, which then begin to release their excess energy. This energy is what causes the Northern and Southern lights, and it all happens in the thermosphere!

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