The Earth’s atmosphere is much bigger than previously thought, extending far beyond the Moon, a team of scientists have revealed. The amazing discovery was made thanks to data that has been sitting unexamined for over 20 years.
We now know that the atmosphere surrounding our planet stretches 630,000km (391,464 miles) away and is 50 times the diameter of Earth, thanks to the discovery and analysis of decades-old data by scientists at Russia’s Space Research Institute.
It means that the Moon is part of our atmosphere and not outside of it. In fact, it’s actually located right in the middle of our atmosphere, at an average distance of 384,400 kilometres (238,855 miles) from Earth.
“The Moon flies through Earth’s atmosphere,”explained study author physicist Igor Baliukin of Russia’s Space Research Institute.
The jaw-dropping data was collected by the NASA/European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) between 1996 and 1998 and had been gathering dust in an archive since then.
SOHO unwittingly gathered the groundbreaking information when it was mapping the geocorona, the layer of hydrogen atoms located where the atmosphere merges with outer space. The thin layer glows in far-ultraviolet light which can only be seen from space and is difficult to measure.
Because of this, it was, until now, thought to be about 200,000 kilometres (124,000 miles) from Earth, as that is the point at which solar radiation pressure would override Earth’s gravity.
SOHO’s SWAN instrument has the ability to measure far-ultraviolet emissions from hydrogen atoms, allowing it to make its amazing observation of the geocorona.
“Data archived many years ago can often be exploited for new science,” SOHO project scientist Bernhard Fleck of the European Space Agency said. “This discovery highlights the value of data collected over 20 years ago and the exceptional performance of SOHO.”