How does the Atmosphere keep the Earth Warmer?

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In this activity, learners simulate the energy transfer between the earth and space by using the light from a desk lamp desk lamp with an incandescent bulb and a stack of glass plates. The stack of glass plates represents a model of layers of the atmosphere with a black painted glass plate placed at the bottom of the stack. Using a infrared thermometer learners will add an "atmosphere" to see how it holds the heat in and reduces the transmission of infrared. The order and number of plates can be varied for further experiments. This activity cold also work well outside on a sunny day. Note: the cost of materials does not include the IR thermometer or lamp.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • 4 identical pieces of clear glass (you can use glass from picture frames)
  • • 4 clear rubber feet for the bottom of each piece of glass (to act as spacers)
  • flat black paint
  • infrared thermometer
  • desk lamp with an incandescent bulb


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth Structure
      • Atmosphere
    • Earth, Moon and Sun
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
      • Thermodynamics and Entropy
    • Energy
    • Vibration and Waves
    • Light and Optics
      • Sunlight and Color
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Little Shop of Physics, 2009