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What is the mesosphere made of?

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Quick Answer

The mesosphere is made up of noctilucent clouds, atmospheric tides, gravity tides and planetary tides. Less is known about the mesosphere because it is hard to study.

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Full Answer

The mesosphere is the area of atmosphere situated between the stratosphere and thermosphere. It extends from 31 to 53 miles above the planet. Weather balloons and other aircraft are not capable of flying high enough to penetrate the mesosphere, making it difficult to study.

Even the satellites that orbit above the mesosphere cannot directly measure the traits of this layer of atmosphere. Scientists employ instruments on sounding rockets to sample the mesosphere. These flights are brief and inconsistent, so the mesosphere remains shrouded in mystery.

It is known that the mesosphere vaporizes meteors, but some of the material lingers so that this layer of atmosphere has a high concentration of iron and other metal atoms. High-altitude clouds called "noctilucent clouds" or "polar mesospheric clouds" form in the mesosphere near the poles of the planet. These clouds form much higher than regular clouds, and occasionally electrical discharges akin to lightning appear dozens of miles above the troposphere where thunderclouds are formed.

Together, the stratosphere and mesosphere are sometimes referred to as the middle atmosphere. Gravity and planetary waves influence the mesosphere by carrying energy up from the lower troposphere and stratosphere to drive global circulation.

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