When electromagnetic radiation (light) from the
sun enters the atmosphere, it can heat up the
atmosphere in a couple of ways:
One way is through direct transfer of energy
from the light to molecules in the atmosphere.
Molecules can absorb light energy and as a result
one or more of the following things can happen: 1)
electrons in the molecules can get promoted to
"excited states" and eventually, when they return
to their "ground state" release energy, 2) bonds
in the molecules can vibrate, 3) the molecules can
rotate (move around some axis) or translate (move
along some axis). Because the molecules are moving
more, their overall temperature increases (i.e.
they "heat up").
Another way the sun's light energy can be
transferred to the atmosphere is indirectly. A
large portion of the sun's light will make it to
the Earth's surface, which will reflect is as both
lower energy light and heat. Once the light is
reflected from the surface of the Earth, it can
follow the paths described above to heat up the
atmosphere. I hope that helps!
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