The Earth's Atmosphere

Reading comprehension and vocabulary activity

Read the text below and try to memorize the information and details about the atmosphere.

The atmosphere surrounding Earth is made up of gas mixtures. The most common are nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide and their amounts change in  different places on Earth.

The atmosphere puts pressure on the planet. This pressure becomes less and less the further away from surface you are. When we think of the atmosphere, we mostly think of the part that is closest to us.

The atmosphere is divided into five layers. It is thickest near the surface and thinner as it merges with space.

The troposphere is the first layer above the surface and contains half of the Earth's atmosphere. It extends up from the surface of Earth for about 10 kilometers. This is the layer where airplanes fly. About three-fourths of our atmosphere’s air is found here and at any moment in time, its overall condition  can change. These changes are what we know as weather.

Just above the troposphere is the stratosphere. It extends to about 30/ 40 kilometers above Earth’s surface. Most of the planet’s ozone layer is in this colder, drier layer. This gas helps keep some of the sun’s dangerous radiation from reaching us. Many jet aircrafts also fly in the stratosphere because it is very stable.

If we continue upward, the next layer is the mesosphere, which extends up to about 50 kilometers above Earth’s surface. The mesosphere is extremely cold. It is within this layer that meteors or rock fragments burn up.

Next is the thermosphere about 300 kilometers away, as we get closer to the sun. Temperatures in the thermosphere can be over 1,500º Celsius.  The thermosphere is a layer with auroras. It is also where the space shuttle orbits.

Finally we come to the extremely thin exosphere where the atmosphere merges into space beyond the 300 kilometers. This is the upper limit of our atmosphere.

Together, the layers of our atmosphere protect Earth and provide the conditions needed to support life.

Source: Cambridge University, Weather Channel, Wikipedia

Can you answer the following questions without going back to the passage? Check your guesses afterwards with the text.

1) Which layer of the atmosphere has most of the air?

2) If you were to send a rocket 25 kilometers up into the air, which layer of the atmosphere would it be in?

3) What are the most common gases in Earth’s atmosphere?

4) What important barrier is there in stratosphere? Why is it important?

5) What is the reason why many meteors do not reach the Earth?

6)What are the main characteristics of the exosphere?

7)Where can temperatures reach 1,500º Celsius?

8)Where is there more atmospheric pressure, in the mesosphere or in the stratosphere?

9)In which layer do airplanes fly?

10)Which layer is thicker, the troposphere or the stratosphere?


Earth's Atmosphere Vocabulary Challenge – Individal, pair, or group competition.

What do you call...?

a) the force resulting from a column of air pressing down on an area.
b) the invisible rays that are part of the energy that comes from the sun. they can burn the eyes, hair, and skin.
c) the transfer of energy through empty space; the way by which energy from the sun reaches Earth.
d) the process by which heat from the sun is trapped by gases in Earth's atmosphere, which results dangerous.
e) a scientific instrument used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure.
f) a form of oxygen that has three oxygen atoms in each molecule.

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