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Upper Atmosphere Shrinks

July 18, 2010

An upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere recently shrank so much that researchers are at a loss to adequately explain it, NASA said on Thursday.

The thermosphere, is an upper layer of Earth’s atmosphere that blocks harmful ultraviolet rays. It expands and contracts regularly when influenced by the sun’s thermal activity. The thermosphere lies high above Earth’s surface, close to where the atmosphere ends and space begins. It ranges in altitude from 55 miles to 370 miles above the ground – the realm of meteors, auroras, space shuttles and the international space station.

While dramatic from a scientific perspective, this change will not affect the weather or the color of the sky – but it will affect drag on satellites and space junk orbiting at those levels. This abnormal change in the thermosphere could also result in slight disruptions of satellite communications, including global-positioning system signals.

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