exosphere [%PREMIUM_LINK%] (ěk'sō-sfîr') Pronunciation Key |
The outermost region of the Earth's atmosphere, beginning at an altitude of approximately 550 km to 700 km (341 to 434 mi) and merging with the interplanetary medium at around 10,000 km (6,200 mi). The exosphere consists chiefly of ionized hydrogen, which creates the geocorona by reflecting far-ultraviolet light from the Sun. On the remote edges of the exosphere, hydrogen atoms are so sparse that each cubic centimeter might contain only one atom; furthermore, the pressure and gravity are weak enough that atoms in the exosphere can escape entirely and drift into space. Artificial satellites generally orbit in this region. See also mesosphere, stratosphere, thermosphere, troposphere., See illustration at atmosphere.
outermost region of a planet's atmosphere, where molecular densities are low and the probability of collisions between molecules is very small. The base of the exosphere is called the critical level of escape because, in the absence of collisions, lighter, faster-moving atoms such as hydrogen and helium may attain velocities that allow them to escape the planet's gravitational field. Most molecules, however, have velocities considerably lower than the escape velocity, so their rate of escape to outer space is quite low.
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