BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe

Giraf

 

Coming soon: GIRAF 2011 Workshop

5. - 9. December 2011
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Organised by the IUGS-CGI and UNESCO
Hosting Organisation: SEAMIC

 

GIRAF: Geoscience InfoRmation AFrica. Logo

Exosphere

 

The exosphere is a thin, atmosphere-like volume surrounding a planet or natural satellite where molecules are gravitationally bound to that body, but where the density is too low for them to behave as a gas by colliding with each other. In the case of bodies with substantial atmospheres, such as Earth's atmosphere, the exosphere is the uppermost layer, where the atmosphere thins out and merges with interplanetary space. It is located directly above the thermosphere. Very little is known about it due to lack of research. Mercury, the Moon and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter have surface boundary exospheres, which are exospheres without a denser atmosphere underneath.

Mercury and several large moons, such as the Moon and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, have exospheres without a denser atmosphere underneath, referred to as a surface boundary exosphere. Here, molecules are ejected on elliptic trajectories until they collide with the surface. Smaller bodies such as asteroids, in which the molecules emitted from the surface escape to space, are not considered to have exospheres.

The most common molecules within Earth's exosphere are those of the lightest atmospheric gases. Hydrogen is present throughout the exosphere, with some helium, carbon dioxide, and atomic oxygen near its base. Because it can be hard to define the boundary between the exosphere and outer space (see "Upper boundary" at the end of this section), the exosphere may be considered a part of interplanetary or outer space.

The lower boundary of the exosphere is called the exobase. It is also called exopause and 'critical altitude' as this is the altitude where barometric conditions no longer apply. Atmospheric temperature becomes nearly a constant above this altitude. On Earth, the altitude of the exobase ranges from about 500 to 1,000 kilometres (310 to 620 mi) depending on solar activity.

In principle, the exosphere covers distances where particles are still gravitationally bound to Earth, i.e. particles still have ballistic orbits that will take them back towards Earth. The upper boundary of the exosphere can be defined as the distance at which the influence of solar radiation pressure on atomic hydrogen exceeds that of Earth's gravitational pull. This happens at half the distance to the Moon (the average distance between Earth and the Moon is 384,400 kilometres (238,900 mi)). The exosphere, observable from space as the geocorona, is seen to extend to at least 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) from Earth's surface.

Contact

    
Dr. Kristine Asch
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3324
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-3782