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

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

Earth appears over the Lunar horizon. Photo taken during the Apollo 11 mission. 1969. Credit: NASA
  • 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:

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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Meet Stella — the pup who knows how to use 29 human words

"What a shock," said no dog lover ever.

Surprising Science
  • A speech language pathologist has taught her puppy Stella to use 29 words.
  • Stella "speaks" by stepping on large buttons programmed with recordings of words.
  • The dog expresses her desires, comments on household events, and offers opinions.
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Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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