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This image shows how different types of solar radiation (x-rays to infrared radiation) penetrate into the Earth's atmosphere. It is this solar radiation that ionizes the upper atmosphere, creating the ionosphere.
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The Sun's Effect on the Ionosphere

Invisible layers of ions and electrons are found in the Earth's atmosphere. We call this region of atmosphere the ionosphere.

The main source of these layers is the Sun's ultraviolet light which ionizes atoms and molecules in the Earth's upper atmosphere. During this process, electrons are knocked free from molecules or particles in the atmosphere.

Flares and other big events on the Sun produce increased ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma-ray photons that arrive at the Earth just 8 minutes later (other particles from the Sun may arrive days later) and dramatically increase the ionization that happens in the atmosphere. So, the more active the Sun, the thicker the ionosphere!

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA