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And We rendered the sky a guarded ceiling...
And We rendered the sky a guarded ceiling (21:32)
The human being has a tendency to take everything for granted. One example of this is the atmosphere that we have come to rely on to provide the air we breathe, among many other things. When we stop and reflect on the Quranic verse used in the title of this article, we realize how fortunate we are. We know now that, following God's precise design, the earth's atmosphere blocks out all the harmful short wavelength, high-frequency photons, shielding us from the potentially deadly effects of ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. Life on earth has evolved beneath a protective blanket of air. Without it, we would hardly last a day, for the influx of high-energy photons (primarily from the sun) would prove lethal. We find almost no high-energy photons in our local environment, and must go beyond the upper atmosphere to encounter these.

All of us should count ourselves fortunate to have an atmosphere that protects us from the electromagnetic waves that would otherwise destroy us. The most important part of this protection consists of the shield against ultraviolet waves, which the sun produces in great amounts. This atmospheric shield arises from one of the most famous and least understood of all molecules, ozone.

A molecule consists of two or more atoms held together in a single unit. The air that we breathe consists mainly of oxygen molecules (oxygen atoms linked together in pairs, hence the notation 02), and nitrogen molecules (pairs of nitrogen atoms, or N2). These molecules provide some protection against streams of ultraviolet radiation from the sun and (much, less important) from other astronomical objects. Although some ultraviolet photons will disappear when they strike oxygen and nitrogen molecules, most would penetrate the atmosphere and strike the earth's surface, were it not for the ozone layer.

Ozone is a relatively rare type of molecule, formed when three oxygen atoms link together (03) rather than in pairs. Not much attention would be paid to ozone, were it not for the fact that ozone molecules prove remarkably efficient at absorbing ultraviolet photons. Because of this efficiency even a' relatively tiny number of ozone molecules, high in the stratosphere, is sufficient to remove almost all the ultraviolet radiation that streams toward the earth.

"The One who made the earth habitable for you and the sky a structure ..." (Quran, 2:22)

Ozone molecules are formed from oxygen atoms that are broken apart by the high-energy ultraviolet photons. Some o the individual oxygen atoms recombine to form 03 (ozone) rather than 02 (oxygen molecules).

"Not even an atom's weight is out of your Lord's control, be it in the heavens or the earth ..." (Quran, 10:61)

Ozone layer is a region in the earth's stratosphere - between 7 and 30 miles above the surface. It absorbs much of the harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Ultraviolet radiation is one of the causes of skin cancer. Other types of atoms and molecules in the atmosphere screen out all X-rays and gamma rays that reach to the atmosphere.

As if all this protection from harmful radiation was not enough, God in all His mercy and wisdom allows selected waves to pass through the atmosphere. These waves are not harmful to living organism but instead are of great value to the day-to-day life on earth. Examples are the radio waves, sometimes subdivided into "microwaves" (the same ones used in microwave ovens) and "ordinary" (longer wavelength) radio photons. Today's daily living would have been quite different without this phenomenon. The television, radio, radar and satellite links are just a few more examples of today progress in technologies gained through these wavelength photons. God with His grace taught the humans to harness all this.

"He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, "Give me the names of these, if you are right" (Quran, 2:31)

All this, and much more, have been established for the inhabitants of earth by God ... for the purpose of distinguishing those among you who would do better ... (Quran, 67:2)

By Ijaz Chaudry.

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