What is the weight of the Earth’s atmosphere?

Dear Tom,
What is the weight of the Earth’s atmosphere? I always wonder about this when I hear air pressure reports.
— Alison Robers, Monee
Dear Alison,
The Earth’s gravity acts on the atmosphere and holds it down, just as it does all other objects. The weight of the atmosphere is estimated to be about 5.75 quadrillion (5,750,000,000,000,000) tons.
Air pressure is the “push” of the atmosphere on the Earth’s surface. It is the force exerted by the atmosphere per unit area. In easily understandable terms, it can be said that at sea level the atmosphere pushes on the surface with a pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch. The pressure is ultimately due to the random motion of rapidly vibrating gas molecules, and that vibration consists of movement in all directions. Therefore, that 14.7 pounds per square inch is also exerted in all directions: up, down and sideways.

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