Saturday, May 27, 2006

Our thin shell of air

I was walking out to get the mail, and I noticed the Tucson Mountains off in the distance. Now they aren't that far away, just about 20 miles or so to the west. And the air is so clear today, I can see the mountains very well. The drive to the mountains takes almost 45 minutes in typical weekend traffic, and I've driven there quite a bit.

I got to thinking that, if I were to go 20 miles straight up instead of to the west, I would die from lack of oxygen. I'd be in the middle of the stratosphere, and also in the midst of the ozone layer. The temperature would only be about -20 Centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit). The air pressure is only 0.01 atmospheres (it is 1 atmosphere at the Earth's surface) -- I would be above 99% of the atmosphere!

This gave me some appreciation for how thin Earth's atmosphere really is.

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