Up, Up and Away
From Skyscrapers to Outer Space

How high are satellites, clouds, and the world's tallest trees and buildings? How high do jets, hot air balloons, migrating birds and butterflies fly? On the highest wall you can find, make a model of the earth's atmosphere to scale. Using altitudes provided on the list below, start on the ground and go to the edge of outer space. (If you can't find a wall tall enough, make a "zoomed in" version for events close to the ground, using a larger scale. Label the scale for your readers.) This lesson provides great practice for converting from English to Metric measurements, too.

English Units

Metric Units

Altitude of Various Familiar Things
517 miles   Orbiting NOAA-15 satellite (used for tracking earth?s weather and wildlife migration, too.)
250-435 miles   Our atmosphere?s exosphere (outer space begins at upper level)
30-50 miles   Our atmosphere?s mesosphere
65,000 ft   High altitude record of hot air baloom (1988, Lindstrand)
63,360 ft   Twelve miles high
11-30 miles   Our atmosphere?s stratosphere (Contains the ozone layer.)
6-11 miles   Our atmosphere?s troposphere (Contains most of our weather.)
60,000 ft   Tops of the highest cumulonimbus clouds (?thunderheads?), which may poke into the lower stratosphere from a base only a few thousand feet above the ground!
58,080 ft   Eleven miles high
54,000 ft   Only 1% as much oxygen as at sea level
55,000 ft   Cruising altitude of the Concorde jet
52,800 ft   Ten miles high
47,520 ft   Nine miles high
42,240 ft   Eight miles high
36,960 ft   Seven miles high
36,000 ft   Only 10% as much oxygen as at sea level
36,000 ft   Cruising altitude of a passenger jet
31680 ft   Six miles high
29,028 ft   Highest mountain in the world (Mt. Everest)
29,000 ft   Bar-headed geese seen and heard crossing Himalayas from India to central Asia
26,400 ft   Five miles high
21,120 ft   Four miles high
21,000 ft   Mallard duck once struck by a commercial airliner over the Nevada desert
20,000 ft   High clouds (cirrocumulus, cirrus) bases found above this altitude
20,000 ft   Middle cloud (altocumulus, altostratus) bases found below this altitude
20,000 ft   Radar echoes show some migration at this altitude (few songbirds, more shorebirds)
20,032 ft   Highest mountain in North America (Mt. McKinley)
20-40,000 ft   Jet stream, the river of upper altitude, high speed winds
15840 ft   Three miles high
18,000 ft   Only 50% as much oxygen as at sea-level
11,000 ft   Monarch butterfly seen during fall migration by glider pilot
10,560 ft   Two miles high
10,000 ft   99% of bird migration occurs below this altitude (all species)
10,000 ft   Bald eagles known to have flown this maximum height
6,500 ft   Low cloud bases (cumulus, stratus, stratocumulus) found below this altitude
6,500 ft   Upper height of daytime ?boundary layer? (the lowest layer of the troposphere?s two layers) due to thermals.
5,280 ft   One mile high
5,000 ft   Only 10% of bird migration (all species) occurs at higher altitude
5-6,000 ft   Typical maximum height of thermals in North America (although can range higher in spring and fall)
3,230 m   Elevation of Monarch Butterfly sanctuary in Mexico (El Rosario sanctuary).
2-4,000 ft   The bulk of songbird migration occurs at this altitude. The maximum height is evidently limited by ambient air temperature (> -2C), not by low oxygen levels.
2,720 ft   The world's tallest humanmade structure (Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates) is 2,720 ft (828 m) tall. It opened on January 4, 2010.
2,000 ft   Average maximum altitude of hot air balloon flight
2,000 ft   Two-thirds of all bird-aircraft collisions occur below this altitude
1,483 ft   Height of Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
1,454 ft   Height of the Sears Tower in Chicago, USA)
600-900 ft   Between sunset and dawn, when nocturnal migrants fly, our atmosphere?s ?boundary layer? (the lowest layer of the troposphere?s two layers) is lower, cooler, and more stable than during daytime due to thermals.
500 ft   Except during migration, most birds fly below this level.
367 ft   The tallest living tree
151 ft   Height of the Statue of Liberty
0 ft   Fog is defined as a low stratus cloud with a base on the ground. When fog lifts, it becomes a true stratus cloud.