What Is The Mesosphere, And What Are The Characteristics That Define It?

The atmosphere which surrounds earth is composed of 5 layers which have distinguishing characteristics. The mesosphere is one of these layers of the atmosphere, and it is located above of the stratosphere and underneath the thermosphere.

This article will be giving more details on this layer of the atmosphere and exploring its characteristics.

What Is The Mesosphere, And What Are The Characteristics That Define It

As previously mentioned, the mesosphere is one of five layers which make up our atmosphere and this particular layer is above of the stratosphere and below the thermosphere, and it is between 50 km to 85 km (30 to 53 miles).

This layer of the atmosphere is one of its coldest, and it is distinct for being the layer in which most space debris and meteoroids will get burnt up in.

While to us on earth, the atmosphere will look like one continuous plane of sky, it is made of 5 layers which give it more detail and can be distinguished.

The five layers of the atmosphere are the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and finally the exosphere. This article will focus specifically on the mesosphere being Earth’s third layer of atmosphere.

If you have any questions about the mesosphere or want to learn some interesting defining traits of the mesosphere, keep reading to find out!

Mesosphere Definition

As previously mentioned, the mesosphere is right on top of the stratosphere and between them there is a thin part of air which is known as the stratopause which is used to separate these two layers.

Similarly to the other layers of the atmosphere, the mesosphere also is not in a fixed height. In spite of this there are records of where it roughly begins and ends.

The mesosphere begins at an atmosphere of around 50 km and goes all the way up to 85 km (this is between 30 and 53 miles high.) And as previously mentioned it is the most cold of all 5 layers of the atmosphere.

The upper boundary can reach temperatures which are as low as -90 degrees Celsius (or -130 Fahrenheit). This is the most cold part of all of the planet’s atmosphere.

As the altitude of the layer increases, its temperature will get even lower which is why its highest layer is also its coldest.

Interestingly this is the inverse of the stratosphere which has a temperature inversion where the temperature gets higher with the altitude (see also ‘The Effect Of Altitude On Climate‘).

The name ‘mesosphere’ is actually derived from a Greek phrase – mesos sphaira and this means “middle sphere” which with this layer being the 3rd of 5 layers makes it a very fitting name.

It has the troposphere and the stratosphere below it and the thermosphere and the exosphere above of it.

There is actually much less known about this layer of the atmosphere and this is because it is above the height at which most aircrafts are able to work in but unfortunately underneath where any of the lowest functioning satellites would be able to function.

What Is The Mesosphere, And What Are The Characteristics That Define It (1)

So because of this the only effective way to learn about this layer of the atmosphere is to use sounding rockets to learn information about it.

However, this does not mean that we know nothing about this layer with the main information about it being that this is the layer of the atmosphere in which most of the space debris and meteoroids burn up in.

Because of this, the mesosphere itself contains a high portion of iron as well as other similar metallic particles.

Another distinguishing fact about the mesosphere is that it contains atmospheric tides as well as planetary waves. However, these planetary waves will begin in the troposphere as well as being able to spread up into towards mesosphere.

Within the mesosphere these waves and tides will become more unstable and then eventually dissipate and in this process they will end up creating momentum and this momentum is used in driving global circulation.

While most of the weather related in the atmosphere will take place in the troposphere, there is also a rarer weather activity which does take place in the mesosphere and these are noctilucent clouds which can be identified within the mesosphere at up to heights of 80 km, but this is quite rare as previously mentioned.

Facts About The Mesosphere

If you want some quick easy to learn and memorize facts about the mesosphere keep reading to learn more about this layer of the atmosphere:

  • The mesosphere is located as the third layer of the five layers in which the atmosphere is composed of. It is located on top of the troposphere and the stratosphere, and it is below the thermosphere and exosphere.
  • The mesosphere extends from heights that are about 65 km to 85 km above the surface of the Earth (between 40 and 53 miles). But this height can vary and will be different depending on the location.
  • The mesosphere borders on the stratosphere, but there is a thin space between it known as the stratopause.
  • The space bordering between the mesosphere and the thermosphere is known as the mesopause.
  • The mesosphere is distinguished by how the temperature drops the higher the altitude within the space is (in contrast to the stratosphere)
  • The mesosphere is the most cold of all 5 of the atmospheric layers and its temperatures can get to as low as -130 degrees Fahrenheit or -90 degrees Celsius with its coldest temperatures being by the mesopause and in it.
  • Most of the space debris and meteoroids which enter the atmosphere will burn up within this layer of the atmosphere. This means this layer contains an above average presence of iron as well as metallic particles similar to it.
  • There is a visual phenomenon which occurs within this layer being electrical discharges which are known as lightning sprites but also sometimes called red sprites of ELVES.
  • There is also another uncommon visual phenomenon known as noctilucent clouds which also happens within the mesosphere, and they are above most other weather related activity being 50 miles above the surface.
  • While this layer is not as effective at absorbing solar radiation as the stratosphere, this layer also absorbs a significant amount of solar radiation.
  • On top of the stratosphere this layer is under the umbrella classification of the middle atmosphere.
  • This layer has the least amount of information about it due to how inaccessible it is by aircrafts or satellites.


While this layer has the least amount of information about it due to how difficult it is to research, this does not mean we know nothing about it as has been shown by this article.

However, this makes it easy to remember what little we know about this layer but hopefully more will be discovered through further research!

Andrew Capper