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With Explore the Planets, investigate the planets, their moons, and understand the processes that shape them. By G. Jeffrey Taylor, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.

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.

As temperatures rise and soil moisture decreases, plants are stressed, which can lead to <a href="/earth/climate/crops_withering.html&edu=elem&dev=1">crop withering</a>. <a href="/teacher_resources/online_courses/health/events_health.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Droughts</a> accompanied by increased temperatures can lead to famine, social and political disruptions. Scientists are  helping with early identification of drought that might trigger food shortages. Watch the NBC Learn video - <a href="/earth/changing_planet/withering_crops_intro.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Changing Planet: Withering Crops</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image taken by Tomas Castelazo, Creative Commons <a href=&quot;http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en&quot;>Attribution 3.0 Unported</a> license.</em></small></p>How did life evolve on <a href="/earth/earth.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Earth</a> during the <a href="/earth/past/Archean.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Archean</a>, when the <a href="/sun/sun.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Sun</a> was about 25% weaker than today?  The Earth should have been <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html&edu=elem&dev=1">glaciated</a>, if <a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html&edu=elem&dev=1">greenhouse</a> gas concentration was the same as today.  <a href="http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=10798">Researchers</a> studying the <a href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/isotope.html&edu=elem&dev=1">isotopic</a> signatures of Earth's early atmosphere in <a href="/earth/geology/rocks_intro.html&edu=elem&dev=1">rocks</a> from Northern Australia have ruled out high levels of <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/nitrogen_molecular.html&edu=elem&dev=1">nitrogen</a> as a possible way to increase warming from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=elem&dev=1">atmospheric</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html&edu=elem&dev=1">carbon dioxide</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Manchester University</em></small></p>This iconic image of Earth rising above the surface of the <a
  href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Moon</a>,
  was taken on December 24, 1968 by astronauts on the <a
  href="/space_missions/apollo8.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Apollo 8
  mission</a>.  Apollo 8 was the first <a
  href="/space_missions/manned.html&edu=elem&dev=1">manned
  mission</a> to the Moon, and entered into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve.  That
  evening, the astronauts held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their
  spacecraft.<p><small><em> Image courtesy of   NASA</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&dev=1">methane</a>, a powerful <a href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html&edu=elem&dev=1">greenhouse gas</a>.
Watch the NBC Learn video - <a href="/earth/changing_planet/permafrost_methane_intro.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Thawing Permafrost and Methane</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of the    USGS</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>Scientists at the University of Michigan have found that <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_permafrost1.html&edu=elem&dev=1">permafrost</a> in the <a href="/earth/polar/polar_north.html&edu=elem&dev=1">Arctic</a> is extremely sensitive to sunlight.  Exposure to sunlight releases carbon gases trapped in the permafrost, including <a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html&edu=elem&dev=1">climate-warming</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html&edu=elem&dev=1">carbon dioxide</a>, to the <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=elem&dev=1">atmosphere</a> much faster than previously thought.<p><small><em>George Kling, The University of Michigan</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