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Gallery — Moon through the murk

ISS view of Earth's limb with the Moon in the background

Photo from the International Space Station shows the layers of Earth's atmosphere, with the Moon in the far background.

THIS STUNNING PHOTOGRAPH taken from the vantage point of the International Space Station, shows us what the layers of Earth’s atmosphere look like when seen edge on.

The darkest patch at the bottom of the image is likely to be cloud cover, showing a characteristic unevenness to its upper limits.

Just above that is an orange-red glow that marks the extent of the troposphere, the thick, lowest layer of the atmosphere that reaches up from the surface. The troposphere is where pretty much all of our weather occurs.

Just above the troposphere is a thinner, brown layer. This is the tropopause, which separates the troposphere from the next layer up, the stratosphere.

Indeed, the next layer we see in the image—a whitish-grey colour—is probably part of the stratosphere.

Above that are the topmost layers of the atmosphere—the mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere—which gradually fade from a pale blue into the black of space.

The gases and aerosols (tiny particles) in each atmospheric layer are good at filtering out particular colours in the light spectrum, and that’s why they appear to contrast each other so well.

Finally, in background we can see the Moon, 384,400 kilometres away, but seeming to be a lot closer.

See the full-size image here.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Astronaut photograph provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Centre.

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