Scientists have made a breakthrough discovery about the size of the Earth’s atmosphere, saying it extends far beyond the Moon.
According to a discovery made by analysing decades-old data, scientists now know that the atmosphere surrounding our planet stretches 630,000km (391,464 miles) away and is 50 times the diameter of Earth.
The jaw-dropping data was collected by the NASA/European Space Agency Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) between 1996 and 1998 and had been gathering dust in an archive since then.
SOHO unwittingly gathered the groundbreaking information when it was mapping the geocorona, the layer of hydrogen atoms located where the atmosphere merges with outer space. The thin layer glows in far-ultraviolet light which can only be seen from space and is difficult to measure.
Because of this, it was, until now, thought to be about 200,000 kilometres (124,000 miles) from Earth, as that is the point at which solar radiation pressure would override Earth’s gravity.
SOHO’s SWAN instrument has the ability to measure far-ultraviolet emissions from hydrogen atoms, allowing it to make its amazing observation of the geocorona.
“Data archived many years ago can often be exploited for new science,” SOHO project scientist Bernhard Fleck of the European Space Agency said. “This discovery highlights the value of data collected over 20 years ago and the exceptional performance of SOHO.”