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Last Post 10/17/2016 10:20 AM by  Kris Sigsbee
Atmosphere & Sun
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chris p


10/17/2016 6:33 AM

    How does the Sun interact with our atmosphere, when its so far away, and does it do the same thing with all the planets in our solar system?

    Terry Kucera

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    10/17/2016 10:07 AM
    One way the Sun affects Earth's atmosphere is though the Sun's light. That is ultimately what keeps us warm, of course. It can also lead to particular chemical reactions, especially in the upper atmosphere.

    In addition to light, the Sun itself has a very thin atmosphere that expands out into space. This is called the solar wind. The solar wind can hit a planets atmosphere, or, as happens regularly at the earth, disturbances in the solar wind (for instance, coronal mass ejections (or CMEs)) can effect Earth's magnetic field causing electrons that are in that to come down into our atmosphere causing the aurora (also called the norther and southern lights).

    These things happen on other planets too.

    Kris Sigsbee

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    10/17/2016 10:20 AM
    There are lots of ways that the Sun interacts with our planet! The first way the Sun interacts with Earth and all of the other planets in our solar system is through electromagnetic radiation. This is the main way the Sun affects Earth's atmosphere. Electromagnetic radiation not only includes the visible light wavelengths we can see, but also longer wavelengths like radio and infrared radiation, as well as shorter wavelengths like ultraviolet and x-ray radiation. Light from the Sun travels through our atmosphere, and warms the ground, which then re-radiates this heat to warm the atmosphere. Naturally occurring gases like water vapor and carbon dioxide help by absorbing and re-emitting heat in a greenhouse effect. Changing the chemistry of the Earth's atmosphere through pollution, will make the greenhouse effect run away and the Earth will become too warm. The extreme temperatures on planet Venus are an example of a greenhouse effect gone wild. Global convection patterns in our atmosphere driven by the Sun cause our weather and helps keep the night side of the Earth relatively warm. If Earth didn't have an atmosphere, like the Moon, the Sun would bake the sunlit side of the Earth, while the night side would be freezing! Every object in our solar system receives radiation from the Sun, but how the Sun affects each planet depends on how close it is to the Sun, whether or not it has an atmosphere, and what gasses are in that atmosphere.

    Another way the Sun can interact with planets is through the solar wind. How the solar wind affects planets depends not only on whether or not the planet has an atmosphere, but also on whether or not it has a magnetic field. The atmospheres of planets that do not have a strong, global magnetic field like Venus and Mars are directly exposed to the solar wind. Even though Venus has a very dense atmosphere right now, and Mars has a very thin atmosphere, both planets are constantly losing the lighter atmospheric components as they blow away in the solar wind. Earth on the other hand, is protected by it's strong magnetic field, and it doesn't suffer the same direct atmospheric losses caused by the solar wind that happen on Venus and Mars.

    Even though the solar wind does not directly interact with Earth's atmosphere, the solar wind can produce disturbances in Earth's magnetic field that cause electrons to precipitate into the atmosphere near the north and south poles. Interactions between these electrons and the upper levels of the Earth's atmosphere to cause the green glow we see as the aurora borealis or northern lights.
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