An Unexpected Detection Reveals Gravity Waves in Our Atmosphere’s ‚Nightglow‘


Image: Steven Miller et al
Quite by accident, a group of physicists based at Colorado State University has detected gravity waves rippling across Earth’s highest atmospheric layers. The find, described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first time that the phenomenon has been observed so far above the planet’s surface on a global scale and with a high amount of spatial detail. The newfound detection ability may mean big things for weather and climate forecasting.

By Michael Byrne|MOTHERBOARD

Above the Earth’s surface is what can be imagined as the surface of a small pond—or several of them, in fact. At every point of transition between atmospheric layers is one of these surfaces, which are very much like the transitional regions between air and liquid that we experience regularly as the surfaces of bodies of water.

An odd wind current might disrupt one of these surfaces as a stone disrupts the metaphorical pond, and, as gravity works to restore the surface of the pond, so too does it work to restore the transitional boundary between layers of different densities following a disruption. The higher density air does not belong above air of lower density (it has more mass per unit of space), so the denser is pulled back to Earth with more force. Gravity is a function of mass.

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