Atmosphere - Composition


Initial atmospheric makeup is generally related to the chemistry and temperature of the local solar nebula during planetary formation and the subsequent escape of interior gases. The original atmospheres started with the radially local rotating gases that collapsed to the spaced rings that formed the planets. They were then modified over time by various complex factors, resulting in quite different outcomes.

The atmospheres of the planets Venus and Mars are primarily composed of carbon dioxide, with small quantities of nitrogen, argon, oxygen and traces of other gases.

The atmospheric composition on Earth is largely governed by the by-products of the very life that it sustains. Earth's atmosphere contains roughly (by molar content/volume) 78.08% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, a variable amount (average around 1.247%) water vapor, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and traces of hydrogen, helium, and other "noble" gases.

The low temperatures and higher gravity of the gas giants — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — allows them to more readily retain gases with low molecular masses. These planets have hydrogen-helium atmospheres, with trace amounts of more complex compounds.

Two satellites of the outer planets possess non-negligible atmospheres: Titan, a moon of Saturn, and Triton, a moon of Neptune, which are mainly nitrogen. Pluto, in the nearer part of its orbit, has an atmosphere of nitrogen and methane similar to Triton's, but these gases are frozen when farther from the Sun.

Other bodies within the Solar System have extremely thin atmospheres not in equilibrium. These include the Moon (sodium gas), Mercury (sodium gas), Europa (oxygen), Io (sulfur), and Enceladus (water vapor).

The atmospheric composition of an extra-solar planet was first determined using the Hubble Space Telescope. Planet HD 209458b is a gas giant with a close orbit around a star in the constellation Pegasus. The atmosphere is heated to temperatures over 1,000 K, and is steadily escaping into space. Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and sulfur have been detected in the planet's inflated atmosphere.

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