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The meaning of «ionosphere»

The ionosphere (/aɪˈɒnəˌsfɪər/[1][2]) is the ionized part of Earth's upper atmosphere, from about 48 km (30 mi) to 965 km (600 mi) altitude,[3] a region that includes the thermosphere and parts of the mesosphere and exosphere. The ionosphere is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important role in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere. It has practical importance because, among other functions, it influences radio propagation to distant places on the Earth.[4]

As early as 1839, the German mathematician and physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss postulated that an electrically conducting region of the atmosphere could account for observed variations of Earth's magnetic field. Sixty years later, Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic radio signal on December 12, 1901, in St. John's, Newfoundland (now in Canada) using a 152.4 m (500 ft) kite-supported antenna for reception. The transmitting station in Poldhu, Cornwall, used a spark-gap transmitter to produce a signal with a frequency of approximately 500 kHz and a power of 100 times more than any radio signal previously produced. The message received was three dits, the Morse code for the letter S. To reach Newfoundland the signal would have to bounce off the ionosphere twice. Dr. Jack Belrose has contested this, however, based on theoretical and experimental work.[5] However, Marconi did achieve transatlantic wireless communications in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, one year later.[6]

In 1902, Oliver Heaviside proposed the existence of the Kennelly–Heaviside layer of the ionosphere which bears his name. Heaviside's proposal included means by which radio signals are transmitted around the Earth's curvature. Heaviside's proposal, coupled with Planck's law of black-body radiation, may have hampered the growth of radio astronomy for the detection of electromagnetic waves from celestial bodies until 1932 (and the development of high-frequency radio transceivers)[citation needed]. Also in 1902, Arthur Edwin Kennelly discovered some of the ionosphere's radio-electrical properties.

In 1912, the U.S. Congress imposed the Radio Act of 1912 on amateur radio operators, limiting their operations to frequencies above 1.5 MHz (wavelength 200 meters or smaller). The government thought those frequencies were useless. This led to the discovery of HF radio propagation via the ionosphere in 1923.[7]

In 1926, Scottish physicist Robert Watson-Watt introduced the term ionosphere in a letter published only in 1969 in Nature:

We have in quite recent years seen the universal adoption of the term 'stratosphere'..and..the companion term 'troposphere'... The term 'ionosphere', for the region in which the main characteristic is large scale ionisation with considerable mean free paths, appears appropriate as an addition to this series.

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