The Atmosphere


A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed… It feels an impulsion… this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.

Richard Bach

In response to requests from last week’s posting, “Space: It’s Not Nothing,” I present some additional images from my South Dakota and Nebraska photographic expedition. Along those same lines thematically, and because the selections here involve clouds and atmosphere, I wondered about the composition of the atmosphere. What I found was that the air we breathe at sea level contains mostly Nitrogen (78.084%), Oxygen (20.947%), Argon (.934%), and Carbon Dioxide (.0314%), with traces of about eleven other elements.

Regarding argon, I learned that we breathe it in and out without absorbing it because it’s an inert gas—it doesn’t undergo chemical reactions under certain conditions. So when we exhale, the argon atoms re-enter the room—or outdoors—to be inhaled again by others.

Astronomer Harlow Shapley calculated that in one year, the argon atoms we exhale today will circulate around the planet and fifteen of them will come back to us to be breathed in again. On that basis, he further calculated that every breath we take has millions of argon atoms that were once in the bodies of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ and the bodies of dinosaurs and sabre-toothed tigers 65 million years ago.

I photographed the Great Plains landscape hoping to catch the sensibility of vast space as a way to engage and appreciate the fact that space is not empty, that it’s filled with invisible particles, forces and fields. Now, they are showing me that the space within which we live and breath is a veritable and dynamic nature-made “soup” consisting of water vapor and a host of elemental particles—precisely proportioned to give rise to and sustain life. Air. Breathable atmosphere. So far, in all our exploring, we haven’t found anything to match it anywhere else in the universe. It’s good not to take it for granted.




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