Did you know that every day, hundreds of tons of Earth’s atmosphere disappear in space? NASA researchers have decided to investigate this strange phenomenon.
Without an atmosphere, life simply could not exist on Earth. This shield of gas, held in place by Earth’s gravity, protects us daily from cosmic radiation, diffuses the sun’s light and traps its heat, and provides us with the air we need to breathe. However, hundreds of tons of Earth’s atmosphere disappear every day in space, and scientists do not know why.
According to NASA researchers, no oxygen leak is similar to another, making their understanding even more complicated. Indeed, although the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are relatively well understood at night, the so-called “fountains of gas” that occur during the day continue to baffle the experts. However, scientists have noticed that they have a link with the auroral activity.
In Ny Alesund, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, researchers have the perfect conditions for studying the undersides of these fountains of gas. Every morning, the station passes under a weak point of the Earth’s magnetic field. It acts as a kind of funnel, carrying the solar winds into the upper atmosphere, where they express themselves in the form of aurora borealis and cause evaporation of gases in space in a large auroral fountain.
Two rockets have recently been sent to the heart of these auroras to better understand the mechanism causing the escape of oxygen. The data collected must now be analyzed and should tell us more about the complex dynamics of the Earth, but also about how some planets, such as Mars, have lost their atmosphere during the history of the cosmos.
In the meantime, do not worry: the Earth’s atmosphere is not going to disappear anytime soon. The quantities that escape are tiny and are restored by photosynthesis daily. We still have 5 billion years in front of us before the Sun turns into a red giant and boils our atmosphere, causing its disappearance in space.