The sky is full of mystery and wonder to adults and children alike. As a way to feed your child’s curiosity, you can introduce them to the scientific principles that explain everything from why the sky is blue to why day and night happen. If you’re looking for a place to start, consider beginning with the wonders of the atmosphere. With activities and programs from Science Explorers, you can feed your child’s curiosity and set them up for future success.
Atmosphere Learning Activities
Down here with our feet on the Earth, it’s nearly impossible to get a great view of the atmosphere in its entirety. With a concept as large as the atmosphere, how can you easily represent it on a scale small enough for children to understand? With a jar, of course! All it takes is a couple of household ingredients to create a small diagram that helps teach kids about the atmosphere.
Make your own atmosphere in a jar with the following common household ingredients:
- Corn syrup
- Dish soap
- Vegetable oil
- Medium jar
If you find that one or more liquids are unavailable to you, consider replacing them with another liquid of similar density. If desired, this project can be preserved for days or weeks by keeping it in an airtight jar or a water bottle for easy storage.
Assembling Your Atmosphere Jar
This activity is perfect for young children who have already mastered their pouring motor skills and are looking to learn more about the world they live in. If your children are younger — and you want to minimize mess — you can pour all of the liquids and hold the activity in more of a demonstration format than a participatory one.
After carefully washing your jar to remove any possible residue, start pouring your liquids into the jar based on their density. This means heavier liquids like corn syrup and honey should go in first, while lighter liquids like dish soap and water should be added to the jar last. To keep your project neat, make sure not to get the liquids on the sides of the jar, pouring them straight down. Depending on the size of your jar, you may want to use a funnel.
Due to the different densities of the liquids, they’ll stay completely separate and form several unique layers in the jar that represent the five layers of the atmosphere. Alongside teaching your child about the atmosphere, this activity is ideal for showing the property of density and the differences between liquids. The liquids will arrange themselves in the following order according to density:
Layer 1: The Troposphere
The bottom layer of honey represents the troposphere. The troposphere is the layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth, spanning 12 kilometers. Most of our weather is contained in the troposphere, including clouds, snow and rain. However, cumulonimbus thunder clouds are sometimes higher in the atmosphere and are located near the stratosphere. About 75% of all air in the atmosphere is in the troposphere, used for respiration and photosynthesis across the globe.
Like other layers of the atmosphere, the troposphere gets thinner near the North and South Poles and becomes higher at the equators. The troposphere is the densest atmospheric layer due to its compression under the weight of the rest of the atmospheric layers. Most aviation occurs in the troposphere.
Layer 2: Stratosphere
The corn syrup layer of your atmosphere project represents the stratosphere. The stratosphere contains most of the ozone in the atmosphere and is located between 12 and 50 kilometers above the planet’s surface. Otherwise known as the ozone layer, the stratosphere helps protect the Earth from the sun by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The only clouds that exist in the stratosphere are cumulonimbus thunder clouds and polar stratospheric clouds. Many jet planes are capable of reaching and flying in the stratosphere.
Layer 3: Mesosphere
The third layer — which is made of corn syrup in your demonstration — represents the mesosphere. The mesosphere is the layer above the stratosphere where the temperature decreases as you ascend in height. It’s located between 50 and 80 kilometers above the planet’s surface and is home to noctilucent clouds, which are the highest clouds possible in Earth’s atmosphere.
The temperature reaches a low of -130 Fahrenheit at the mesopause, and the coolness of the layer helps burn up meteors that enter Earth’s atmosphere. Rocket-powered aircraft traverse the mesosphere.
Layer 4: Thermosphere
The layer of dish soap in your atmosphere activity represents the thermosphere. The thermosphere is where the temperature begins to rise again due to the absorption of UV light and x-ray radiation from the sun. It’s located between 80 and 700 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and contains no clouds or water vapor. However, the thermosphere is home to phenomenons like the colorful aurora borealis and aurora australis.
After going 80 kilometers up, the thermosphere is referred to as the ionosphere due to how solar radiation interacts with electrons in the atmosphere, which turns their ionic charges positive. The temperature in the ionosphere varies much more greatly than other regions and changes depending on the time of day and the seasons. The International Space Staton stays in orbit in the Earth’s thermosphere.
Layer 5: Exosphere
The layer of water on top of your atmosphere project represents the exosphere. At 700 kilometers above the Earth begins the exosphere, which consists of mainly hydrogen and oxygen atoms spaced far apart. Due to gravity, these atoms follow a ballistic trajectory, with some atoms escaping out of the atmosphere and into space. This is due to the molecules’ extremely low density. The exosphere is where Earth satellites orbit and the aurora borealis sometimes shine.
The magnetosphere is the last layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, but it exists in a more nontraditional sense. In the magnetosphere, electrons and protons become trapped as if by a magnet. These are electrons and protons from the Van Allen radiation belt, which sits between 3,000 and 16,000 kilometers above the Earth. The magnetosphere works with the rest of the atmosphere’s layers to protect the Earth from cosmic and solar radiation and wind.
Learn More About Our Summer STEM Clubs
Science Explorers offers a range of immersive educational experiences for children between the ages of 4 and 11. We offer engaging and educational after-school STEM clubs to keep their education going strong during the school year.
Contact us online or call us at 1-877-870-9517 to learn more about our programs or register.