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Temperatures decrease (get colder) with increasing altitude in the mesosphere.
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Original artwork by Windows to the Universe staff (Randy Russell).

Temperature in the Mesosphere

Temperature decreases with height throughout the mesosphere. The coldest temperatures in Earth's atmosphere, about -90° C (-130° F), are found near the top of this layer.

The air is much thinner (less dense) in the mesosphere than in the stratosphere below. There are fewer air molecules, including ozone molecules which play such an important role in heating the stratosphere, to absorb incoming solar electromagnetic radiation.

Carbon dioxide in the mesosphere also helps make this layer cold. CO2 molecules absorb thermal energy (heat) from collisions with other molecules. The CO2 releases some of that energy as photons in a process called radiative emission. Some of those photons travel upward into space, effectively carrying heat away from the mesosphere.

Last modified March 31, 2009 by Randy Russell.

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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