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As you go higher in the mesosphere, the air gets colder.
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Original artwork by Windows to the Universe staff (Randy Russell).

Temperature in the Mesosphere

The top of the mesosphere is the coldest part of the atmosphere. It can get down to -90° C (-130° F) there! As you go higher in the mesosphere, the air gets colder.

The air is much thinner (less dense) in the mesosphere than in the stratosphere below. There are fewer air molecules to absorb incoming electromagnetic radiation from the Sun. That includes molecules of ozone, which absorb ultraviolet radiation and heat the stratosphere. In the mesosphere, the thin air and small amounts of ozone prevent the air from warming much.

Carbon dioxide in the mesosphere also helps make this layer cold. CO2 molecules absorb heat energy when they bounce off of 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. This carries 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 by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF