The Moon is inside Earth's atmosphere, European researchers say

Scientists examined data from 20 years ago to reach a startling new conclusion.

  • Observations made by the SOHO spacecraft over 20 years ago lead to a new discovery.
  • The Earth has a hydrogen envelope as part of its outer atmosphere called the geocorona.
  • The geocorona stretches well past the Moon, reveals a study.

We are more linked to the Moon than we've realized. It turns out that the outer part of the Earth's atmosphere stretches considerably past the lunar orbit. In fact, it goes as far as twice the distance to the Moon.

This discovery is a product of observations by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — a spacecraft launched in 1995 to study the sun, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA.

Measurements taken over 20 years ago by SOHO got a fresh look in a new study, which came to remarkable conclusions. What the data showed is that the geocorona, a hydrogen envelope which wraps around our planet, extends up to 630,000 km (391,464 miles) away from it. This distance is 50 times the Earth's diameter.

Earth's geocorona from the Moon. An ultraviolet picture taken in 1972 with camera operated by Apollo 16 astronauts on the Moon. Image source: European Space Agency

Igor Baliukin of Russia's Space Research Institute, the lead author of the study on the subject, explained that "the moon flies through Earth's atmosphere."

The geocorona appears where the planet's atmosphere comes into contact with outer space. It's essentially a cloud of hydrogen atoms. Between 1996 and 1998, SWAN, an instrument aboard the SOHO spacecraft, was able to use its sensors to follow hydrogen signatures, thus pinpointing the edges of the geocorona

"Data archived many years ago can often be exploited for new science," said Bernhard Fleck, a European Space Agency SOHO project scientist. "This discovery highlights the value of data collected over 20 years ago and the exceptional performance of SOHO."

The extent of Earth's geocorona. Image source: ESA

Besides being transformative in understanding our own atmosphere, the discovery may be helpful in searching for planets with water beyond our solar system. Detecting the presence of hydrogen in their outer atmospheres can mean the presence of water vapor near the surface.

Check out more SOHO accomplishments over 20 years in space:

Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
  • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
  • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Keep reading Show less

3 ways to find a meaningful job, or find purpose in the job you already have

Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.

Videos
  • Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
  • There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
  • "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Keep reading Show less

Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
Surprising Science
  • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
  • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
  • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
Keep reading Show less

UPS has been discreetly using self-driving trucks to deliver cargo

TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.


PAUL RATJE / Contributor
Technology & Innovation
  • This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
  • UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
  • TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.
Keep reading Show less