At first, I didn't know what to write for this. I wanted to participate, but I felt like the vein of poetry had been tapped out, at least for me. But upon thinking upon the different options, I decided to take the one hidden in plain sight: what lies, or at least misconceptions, do people actually have about our sky? Because while the phrase seems to be poetic, lying about the sky can be serious business: it was what Galileo did to save his own life. Here then, is my literal take on the matter: misconceptions about our atmosphere.

The first lie about the atmosphere is that there is a lot of it. Outer space seems a long, long way away and clouds and airplanes fly far above us. But this is in some ways an illusion: while there is detectable traces of atmosphere 100 miles above sea level, it is incredible tenuous. The atmosphere rapidly thins, and above 20 to 25,000 feet, human life is untenable, due to lack of oxygen. The closest post office to me is 2.7 miles away: a short bike ride. If I were to go this distance straight up, I would be at the limit of the portion of the atmosphere that is conductive to life. In biological terms, I would be pretty close to the edge of "space". The entire atmosphere of the earth, if compressed down to the density of the atmosphere at sea level, would probably be around ten kilometers or six miles thick. And even air at sea level isn't that dense: it is about a kilogram per cubic meter, or one-one thousands the density of water. Our atmosphere, if as dense as water, would be a layer 30 feet thick. And the earth itself is five times denser than water: meaning that if condensed to the density of rock, our atmosphere would be 6 feet thick. Six feet is not much when compared to the 4000 mile radius of our earth. Its a thin cover we have over us.

The second lie is the opposite of the above lie: that the atmosphere is not much. We perhaps can remember a time when we were small children and someone explained to us that the air was a real thing, that it wasn't just nothing. The air is thin, it is a small layer compared to the total size of our planet, but it is still very big compared to us. A cubic meter of air weights a kilogram, a cubic kilometer of air weights a billion kilograms, or a million tons. The earth's surface area is half a billion kilometers, and if we extend the earth's atmosphere up 10 kilometers, that means that our atmosphere's mass is 5 trillion metric tons. 5 trillion metric tons of air, constantly moving, expanding, contracting, going up and down, picking things up, putting them down, and somethings accelerating to hundreds of kilometers per hour. I said above that the atmosphere is equivalent to a layer of six feet of rock, but it has much more say in how the geosphere operates than this would suggest. The tallest mountains on earth are six miles high, and the atmosphere is what determines how high they can get. The atmosphere is constantly picking up water, and then depositing it on mountains in the form of snow and rain. In geological time periods, the effects of ice and rain on a mountain can wear it down quite quickly. This is just one small example of the way that the atmosphere, while small, is still large enough to change the surface of our planet.

The third lie about our atmosphere is that it is simple. The "dry" atmosphere of our planet is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, a little less than 1% argon, and then everything else is contained in the last 1 part of 300 that is "everything else", including carbon dioxide, methane and all the other trace gasses. However, this definition of the atmosphere is tautological: these are the parts of the atmosphere that are "clean, dry air" even though the air that actually exists is no such thing. This simplified version of what makes up our atmosphere is a type of "No True Scotsman fallacy": anything in the atmosphere that is not a gas is "not part of the atmosphere". But our actual atmosphere has so much else in it. Water, in its vapor, liquid, and solid form, is always part of the atmosphere. So too is ash and dust, sometimes in great quantities. Many microscopic animals, such as water bears can be found in the atmosphere, transiting across the globe. Close to the ground, the atmosphere is full of chemicals and particles released by living things, as well as by man-made processes. The atmosphere is not merely gas, but a living thing that is a suspension of solid and liquid chemicals in a gaseous medium. If you were to take a cubic meter of air near the surface and to strain out and catalog everything found within it, you would probably have the work of a lifetime to find everything included in that small volume of air.

I hope that this discussion of lies told about the atmosphere has been enlightening. As a final caveat, much of what I wrote here was phrased in terms of spherical cows: this is not a matter of exact scientific descriptions, but rather to get people thinking about the ways we look at the atmosphere. Please message me with any glaring errors I have included.