One of the interesting things we learned from the Ascent project balloon flights was that as the balloon gained altitude the air temperature first decreased then reversed and increased for a while. What had happened was that balloon had reached an altitude where there was ozone – in fact both balloons reached the lower part of the stratosphere where the ozone layer is located. Ozone is a molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms and is produced as well as destroyed by a combination of natural and manmade factors. Nonetheless the ozone making up the ozone layer is an extremely important, actually essential, component of our atmosphere. Ozone absorbs most of the Ultraviolet (UV) radiation sent our way from the Sun, and without that protection the surface of the Earth would be sterile from UV radiation, and as lifeless as the surface of Mars is today.
Since Ozone is important any change in its status is a cause for concern, and that is what led to essentially a worldwide agreement to ban the use of certain chemicals during the 1970s. Chemicals that when released into the atmosphere would react with ozone molecules and break them apart, and when doing so increase the amount of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.NASA has several missions that observe our planet’s atmosphere, specifically the ozone layer and overall ozone concentrations in the atmosphere. Recent data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite shows that the ozone hole over the South Pole/Antarctica is the second smallest it has been in the last 20 years of monitoring the size of the ozone hole. Additionally there has been a significant decrease in the depletion of ozone over the years as the amounts of ozone depleting chemicals have also decreased. In other words the global ban on the use of products containing chemical compounds like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) for example has contributed significantly to the ‘healing’ of our atmosphere.
Want to Learn more about the Ozone Hole over the South Pole region? Click here to go to NASA’s Ozone Hole Watch web site.
Click here to go to the Windows to the Universe web site to learn more about the layers of the atmosphere.
Watch a short video explanation of how ozone is destroyed in a chemical reaction.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.