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 suspended in the Earth's atmosphere
above about 60 kilometers in altitude. 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, called photoionization, an electron is knocked free from a neutral atmospheric particle, which then becomes an ion. Because the Sun's light is responsible for most of the ionization, the ionosphere reaches maximum densities just after local noon. In this region, at altitudes where the highest densities occur, about one in every 1000 air particles is ionized. Resulting ionospheric densities are about a million ions and electrons per cubic centimeter.
Flares and other energetic events on the Sun produce increased ultraviolet, x-ray and gamma-ray photons that arrive at the Earth just 8 minutes later and dramatically increase the density of the ionosphere on the dayside. These solar events also can produce high velocity protons and electrons (arriving at Earth hours to days later) that precipitate into the ionosphere in the polar regions producing large increases in the density of the ionosphere at low altitudes.
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