The Ideal Atmosphere
A Virtual Laboratory
The atmosphere is made up of an incredible number of molecules whose basic interactions obey Newton's laws of motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation with the Earth. These simple rules, applied to all those molecules, produces an atmosphere whose density decreases with altitude. If one kind of molecule is more massive than another, we also see that the more massive molecules stays closer to the ground (on average) than the less massive molecules. The work done by gravity sees to this.
The simulation running below shows an ideal gas of non-interacting particles. The particles obey Newton's laws of motion, with the ground temperature determining their average kinetic energy through thermodynamics. They start off at ground level with random placement and velocity direction, and undergo a series of elastic collisions with the ground as they climb upwards under the influence of gravity.
You can control several of the simulation paramters and see what changes they make in the "atmosphere's" behavior:
Take control of your atmosphere, and see what happens!