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An atmosphere (from Greek ἀτμός (atmos), meaning 'vapor', and σφαῖρα (sphaira), meaning 'sphere'[1][2]) is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in place by the gravity of that body. An atmosphere is more likely to be retained if the gravity it is subject to is high and the temperature of the atmosphere is low.The term stellar atmosphere describes the outer region of a star and typically includes the portion above the opaque photosphere. Stars with sufficiently low temperatures may have outer atmospheres with compound molecules.

Atmospheric pressure at a particular location is the force per unit area perpendicular to a surface determined by the weight of the vertical column of atmosphere above that location. On Earth, units of air pressure are based on the internationally recognized standard atmosphere (atm), which is defined as 101.325 kPa (760 Torr or 14.696 psi). It is measured with a barometer. Atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing altitude due to the diminishing mass of gas above. The height at which the pressure from an atmosphere declines by a factor of e (an irrational number with a value of 2.71828...) is called the scale height and is denoted by H. For an atmosphere with a uniform temperature, the scale height is proportional to the temperature and inversely proportional to the product of the mean molecular mass of dry air and the local acceleration of gravity at that location. For such a model atmosphere, the pressure declines exponentially with increasing altitude. However, atmospheres are not uniform in temperature, so estimation of the atmospheric pressure at any particular altitude is more complex. Surface gravity differs significantly among the planets. For example, the large gravitational force of the giant planet Jupiter retains light gases such as hydrogen and helium that escape from objects with lower gravity. Secondly, the distance from the Sun determines the energy available to heat atmospheric gas to the point where some fraction of its molecules' thermal motion exceed the planet's escape velocity, allowing those to escape a planet's gravitational grasp. Thus, distant and cold Titan, Triton, and Pluto are able to retain their atmospheres despite their relatively low gravities. Since a collection of gas molecules may be moving at a wide range of velocities, there will always be some fast enough to produce a slow leakage of gas into space. Lighter molecules move faster than heavier ones with the same thermal kinetic energy, and so gases of low molecular weight are lost more rapidly than those of high molecular weight. It is thought that Venus and Mars may have lost much of their water when, after being photo dissociated into hydrogen and oxygen by solar ultraviolet, the hydrogen escaped. Earth's magnetic field helps to prevent this, as, normally, the solar wind would greatly enhance the escape of hydrogen. However, over the past 3 billion years Earth may have lost gases through the magnetic polar regions due to auroral activity, including a net 2% of its atmospheric oxygen.[3] Other mechanisms that can cause atmosphere depletion are solar wind-induced sputtering, impact erosion, weathering, and sequestration—sometimes referred to as "freezing out"—into the regolith and polar caps.


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