This article is about the atmospheric mesosphere, for the Earth's mantle see Mesosphere (mantle).

The mesosphere (from the Greek words mesos = middle and sphaira = ball) is the layer of the Earth's atmosphere that is directly above the stratosphere and directly below the thermosphere. The mesosphere is located about 50 to 85 kilometers (30 to 50 miles) above the Earth's surface.[1]

The stratosphere and mesosphere are referred to as the middle atmosphere. The mesopause, at an altitude of 80–90 km, separates the mesosphere from the thermosphere—the second-outermost layer of the Earth's atmosphere. This is also around the same altitude as the turbopause, below which different chemical species are well mixed due to turbulent eddies. Above this level the atmosphere becomes non-uniform; the scale heights of different chemical species differ by their molecular masses.


Within the mesosphere, temperature decreases with increasing altitude. This is due to decreasing solar heating and increasing cooling by CO2 radiative emission. The top of the mesosphere, called the mesopause, is the coldest place on Earth.[1] Temperatures in the upper mesosphere fall as low as Template:Convert/-1 °C (Template:Convert/K F),[2] varying according to latitude and season.

Dynamical featuresEdit

The main dynamical features in this region are atmospheric tides, internal atmospheric gravity waves (commonly called "gravity waves") and planetary waves. Most of these tides and waves are excited in the troposphere and lower stratosphere, and propagate upward to the mesosphere. In the mesosphere, gravity-wave amplitudes can become so large that the waves become unstable and dissipate. This dissipation deposits momentum into the mesosphere and largely drives global circulation.

Noctilucent clouds are located in the mesosphere. The mesosphere is also the region of the ionosphere known as the D layer. The D layer is only present during the day, when some ionization occurs with nitric oxide being ionized by Lyman series-alpha hydrogen radiation. The ionization is so weak that when night falls, and the source of ionization is removed, the free electron and ion form back into a neutral molecule.


The mesosphere lies above the maximum altitude for aircraft and below the minimum altitude for orbital spacecraft. It has only been accessed through the use of sounding rockets. As a result, it is the most poorly understood part of the atmosphere. The presence of red sprites and blue jets (electrical discharges or lightning within the lower mesosphere), noctilucent clouds and density shears within the poorly understood layer may have contributed to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.[3]


Millions of meteors enter the atmosphere, an average of 40 tons per day.[4] Within the mesosphere most melt or vaporize as a result of collisions with the gas particles contained there. This results in a higher concentration of iron and other refractory materials reaching the surface.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:GoldBookRef
  2. Mesosphere, Atmosphere, Climate & Environment Information ProgGFKDamme (UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs),, retrieved on 7 July 2009 
  3. Vergano, Dan; Friend, Tim (February 6, 2003), "Upper atmosphere may hold clues in Columbia mystery", USA Today, 
  4. Leinert C.; Gruen E. (1990). "Interplanetary Dust". Physics and Chemistry in Space (R. Schwenn and E. Marsch eds.). Springer-Verlag. pp. 204--275

External linksEdit

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