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Earth

Earth, our home planet, is a beautiful blue and white ball when seen from space. The third planet from the Sun, it is the largest of the inner planets. Earth is the only planet known to support life and to have liquid water at the surface. Earth has a substantial atmosphere and magnetic field, both of which are critical for sustaining life on Earth. Earth is the innermost planet in the solar system with a natural satellite – our Moon. Explore our beautiful home planet – unique in our solar system - through the links in this section.

Coral animals build reefs in warm, tropical seawater. However, <a href="/earth/changing_planet/ocean_temperatures_intro.html&edu=elem">seawater can be too warm</a> for their liking.  If waters get too warm, coral animals lose the algae that live within their little bodies, a process called coral bleaching. Without the algae, corals have less nutrition. Unless cooler temperatures return, allowing algae to
 return, the coral dies.<p><small><em>Credit: UNC</em></small></p>This image is a montage of high resolutions photographs of the Earth taken in January 2012 by the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi NPP satellite.  The image shows many stunning details of <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/earth.html">our home planet</a> - <a href="http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/gallery/VIIRS_4Jan2012.jpg">particularly at high resolution</a>. The beauty of our planet is obvious from space - our blue <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/overview.html">waters</a>, our white <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html">clouds</a>, and the green from <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Life/life.html">life</a> abundant at the surface.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html&edu=elem">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html&edu=elem">limestone</a>, leading to collapse of the surface.  Hydrologic conditions such as a lack of rainfall, lowered water levels, or excessive rainfall can all contribute to sinkhole development. On 2/28/2013, a sinkhole suddenly developed under the house outside of Tampa, Florida, leading to the tragic death of its occupant, Jeff Bush.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Southwest Florida Water Management District</em></small></p>March 2012 marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&edu=elem">earthquake</a>, <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=elem">tsunami</a>, and resulting nuclear accident in Japan on <a href="/headline_universe/march112011earthquaketsunami.html&edu=elem">11 March 2011</a>.  The tsunami did massive damage, wiping out entire villages and killing ~16,000 people, and leading to one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history.  This image shows before and after photos of the area north of Sendai, where 10,000 people were lost.<p><small><em>Photos by <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/13/world/asia/satellite-photos-japan-before-and-after-tsunami.html?hp">GeoEye/EyeQ</a>.</em></small></p>As permafrost thaws, the land, atmosphere, water resources, ecosystems, and human communities are affected. Coastal areas and hillsides are vulnerable to erosion by thawing of permafrost.  Thawing permafrost also causes a positive feedback to global warming, as carbon trapped within the once-frozen soils is released as <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/methane.html&edu=elem">methane</a>, a powerful <a href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html&edu=elem">greenhouse gas</a>.
Watch the NBC Learn video - <a href="/earth/changing_planet/permafrost_methane_intro.html&edu=elem">Thawing Permafrost and Methane</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of the    USGS</em></small></p>A new study has found that <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/airpollution_intro.html&edu=elem">pollution</a> from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html&edu=elem">fine particles</a> in the air - mainly the result of burning coal or <a href="/earth/interior/eruptions.html&edu=elem">volcanic eruptions</a> - can shade <a href="/earth/Life/cnidarian.html&edu=elem">corals</a> from sunlight and cool the surrounding water resulting in reduced growth rates.  Coral growth rates in the Caribbean were affected by volcanic aerosol emissions in the early 20th century and by aerosol emissions caused by humans in the later 20th century.  For more information, see the <a href="http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_278202_en.html">press release</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Toby Hudson (Wikimedia Commons)</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA