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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.

A new study has found that <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/airpollution_intro.html&edu=elem&dev=1">pollution</a> from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html&edu=elem&dev=1">fine particles</a> in the air - mainly the result of burning coal or <a href="/earth/interior/eruptions.html&edu=elem&dev=1">volcanic eruptions</a> - can shade <a href="/earth/Life/cnidarian.html&edu=elem&dev=1">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>This is an artist's conception of the
  Earth and the inner and outer <a
  href="/glossary/radiation_belts.html&edu=elem&dev=1">radiation belts</a> that surround it. The Earth's radiation belts are just one part of
  the system called the <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/overview.html&edu=elem&dev=1">magnetosphere</a>. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/electron.html&edu=elem&dev=1">electrons</a>,
<a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/proton.html&edu=elem&dev=1">protons</a>
  and heavier atomic ions. These particles get trapped in the <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/earth_magnetic_field.html&edu=elem&dev=1">magnetic field of the Earth</a>. 
These belts were <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/radiation_belts_discovery.html&edu=elem&dev=1">discovered</a> by James Van Allen in 1958, and so they are known as Van Allen
  Belts.<p><small><em>Courtesy of Windows to the Universe</em></small></p><p>The United Nations <a href="http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/PAND_report.pdf" target="_blank">estimated</a> that between 1994-2015, there were 6,873 natural disasters worldwide, which affected 218 million people and claimed 1.35 million lives. </p>
<p>Check out the materials about natural disasters in <a href="/earth/natural_hazards/when_nature_strikes.html&edu=elem&dev=1">NBC Learn Videos</a>, and their earth system science connections built up by the related secondary classroom activities.</p><p><small><em>NBC Learn</em></small></p>Greenland's <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html">ice sheet</a> saw a record <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/headline_universe/olpa/greenland_10dec07.html">melt</a> in July 2012.  Scientists studying this event have found that this melting event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air and amplified by the presence of a blanket of thin low-level <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html">clouds</a> which pushed temperatures up above freezing.  For more information see the <a href="http://www.news.wisc.edu/21638">press release</a> from the University of Wisconsin Madison.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison</em></small></p>A view of the Earth as seen by the <a href="/space_missions/apollo17.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Apollo
17</a> crew
while traveling to the
<a href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Moon</a> on
December 7, 1972.  Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula are
visible, and you can barely make out the
<a href="/earth/polar/antarctica.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Antarctic</a>,
shrouded in the heavy
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html&edu=elem&dev=1">cloud</a> cover
in the southern hemisphere.
Arching cloud patterns show the presence of <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/front.html&edu=elem&dev=1">weather
fronts</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/Apollo 17.</em></small></p>Scientists are concerned that melting Arctic sea ice will increase the amount of fresh water in the <a href="/earth/polar/arctic_currents.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Beaufort Gyre</a>, which could spill out into the Atlantic and cause major climate shifts in North America and Western Europe. Watch the <a href="/earth/changing_planet/freshwater_arctic.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Changing Planet: Fresh Water in the Arctic video</a>.<p><small><em> Courtesy of Jack Cook, WHOI (<a href="http://www.whoi.edu">Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute</a>)</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