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The Ozone Layer

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    The Earth's atmosphere is composed of several layers. The lowest layer, the troposphere, extends from the Earth's surface up to about 6 miles or 10 kilometers (km) in altitude. Virtually all human activities occur in the troposphere. Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet, is only about 5.6 miles (9 km) high. The next layer, the stratosphere, continues from 6 miles (10 km) to about 31 miles (50 km). Most commercial airplanes fly in the lower part of the stratosphere.

    Most atmospheric ozone is concentrated in a layer in the stratosphere, about 9 to 18 miles (15 to 30 km) above the Earth's surface (see the figure below). Ozone is a molecule that contains three oxygen atoms. At any given time, ozone molecules are constantly formed and destroyed in the stratosphere. The total amount has remained relatively stable during the decades that it has been measured.