This animation shows how a carbon dioxide molecule vibrates when it absorbs heat.
Courtesy of UCAR (LEARN and COMET)
Earth's Greenhouse Gases
Less than 1% of the gases in Earth's atmosphere
are called greenhouse gases
though they are not very abundant, these greenhouse gases have a major effect.
(CO2), water vapor (H2O), methane
(CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and
a few other gases are greenhouse
gases. They all are molecules
composed of three or more atoms,
bound loosely enough together to be able to vibrate when they absorb heat. Eventually,
the vibrating molecule will emit the radiation again, and it will likely be
absorbed by yet another greenhouse gas molecule. This process is called the
greenhouse effect and keeps heat near the Earth's surface.
Almost all of the other gases in Earth's atmosphere are nitrogen
(N2) and oxygen
(O2). The two atoms in these molecules are bound together
tightly and unable to vibrate, so they do not absorb heat and contribute to
the greenhouse effect.
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