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Physics/Science Question - Atmosphere


Hi, what is the thickness of the bulk of the atmosphere?

- It gives me two options to write, of course, I can  probably only write one of them.

- These two options that I am debating about which one to write are the following:

  1) The Earth's atmosphere extends outward to a distance of approximately 6000 miles.
  2) However, that bulk of that atmosphere is compressed into the first 16 miles.

- Which one should I write as my answer? Thanks.

Hello Jason,

We could define "bulk" as being the portion that has more than 1/2 of the atmosphere's mass. Or we could define it as having more than 1/2 of the atmosphere's volume or even more than 1/2 of the altitude. I'll use the definition that it has more than 1/2 of the mass of the atmosphere.

According to the site
"50% (of the mass of the earth's atmosphere) is below 5.6 km (18,000 ft)."

Converting 5.6 km to miles
5.6 km * (62 miles/100 km) = 3.5 miles

I hope this helps,


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Steve Johnson


I would be delighted to help with questions up through the first year of college Physics. Particularly Electricity, Electronics and Newtonian Mechanics (motion, acceleration etc.). I decline questions on relativity and Atomic Physics. I also could discuss the Space Shuttle and space flight in general.


I have a BS in Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering. I am retired now. My professional career was in Electrical Engineering with considerable time spent working with accelerometers, gyroscopes and flight dynamics (Physics related topics) while working on the Space Shuttle. I gave formal classroom lessons to technical co-workers periodically over a several year period.

BS Physics, North Dakota State University
MS Electrical Engineering, North Dakota State University

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