25 Facts About Earth’s Atmosphere That Are Truly Majestic

Our atmosphere is one of the most protective and important parts of our planet. Responsible for sheltering us from the harsh conditions of outer space, such as solar radiation and space debris, the atmosphere is a complex structure. Though we may not give it due credit in our daily lives, the world’s attention was turned to its layers in 2013 when veteran skydiver Felix Baumgartner took a capsule up to the highest levels of the stratosphere – about 120,000 feet above the Earth’s surface – and jumped. His record-shattering free fall spawned a new wave of interest in space travel and atmospheric science (and a bit of notoriety for his sponsor, too).

In this list, we highlight facts about our atmosphere which aren’t well-known but should be for how important they are to our understanding of the world around us. We discuss how the ozone layer was formed; how deserts form in the middle latitudes; how the northern and southern lights brighten the sky with their glow; and what causes the white streaks sometimes left by planes shooting through our atmosphere. Be the smartest person at your next party with these 25 Facts About The Earth’s Atmosphere That Are Truly Majestic.

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Believe it or not, the sky is actually purple. As light enters the atmosphere, air and water particles absorb and reemit the light, scattering it on its way to our eyes. Since scattering prefers shorter wavelengths, the most commonly scattered color is actually violet. We think we see a blue sky rather than a purple one because our eyes are more sensitive to the color blue.

purple skySource: Colorado State University, Image: biscuitsmlp via Flickr

As you likely learned in science class, our atmosphere is made of about 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and miniscule percentages of argon, carbon dioxide, and other gases. What you might not have learned is that our atmosphere is the only one we have discovered (besides a magnificent find on Comet 67P) which has free oxygen. Since oxygen is a highly reactive gas, it often binds with other chemicals in space. Its pure form on Earth makes the planet habitable and leads our search for life on other planets.

Atmospheric gasesSource: Space, Image: Wikipedia


Most people will probably get this question wrong: is there more water in the clouds or in a clear sky? Though we'd think clouds are the main depository since they drop water, most of the water in our atmosphere is invisible water vapor. For this reason, more sweat lingers on our bodies when the water vapor in the air, known as humidity, is higher.

Humidity_in_Polipoli_State_ParkSource: Colorado State University, Image: Wikimedia

Some global warming skeptics argue it's not a real phenomenon because their city has been getting colder. In fact, Earth's global climate is the combination of a wide variety of regional climates. So even though some areas are warming while others are cooling, on the whole, the average global climate is rapidly warming.

global-warmingSource: Space, Image: Pixabay


Ever wonder what causes the white streak seen after some planes shoot through the sky? These white trails, known as contrails or condensation trails, form when the hot, humid exhaust from an engine mixes with the colder outside air. Water vapor from the exhaust freezes and becomes visible, just like your warm breath on a cold day. A thin and rapidly disappearing contrail means the air at those high altitudes is low in humidity, indicating good weather. A thick, persistent contrail signals high humidity and may mean a storm is coming.

contrailSource: Scientific American, Image: Wikipedia

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