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Learn about planets outside our solar system through Exoplanets and Alien Solar Systems by Tahir Yaqoob, Ph.D., a book in our online store book 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.

How did life evolve on <a href="/earth/earth.html">Earth</a> during the <a href="/earth/past/Archean.html">Archean</a>, when the <a href="/sun/sun.html">Sun</a> was about 25% weaker than today?  The Earth should have been <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html">glaciated</a>, if <a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html">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">isotopic</a> signatures of Earth's early atmosphere in <a href="/earth/geology/rocks_intro.html">rocks</a> from Northern Australia have ruled out high levels of <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/nitrogen_molecular.html">nitrogen</a> as a possible way to increase warming from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html">atmospheric</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html">carbon dioxide</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Manchester University</em></small></p>This is an artist's conception of the
  Earth and the inner and outer <a
  href="/glossary/radiation_belts.html">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">magnetosphere</a>. The radiation belts of the Earth are made up of <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/electron.html">electrons</a>,
<a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/proton.html">protons</a>
  and heavier atomic ions. These particles get trapped in the <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/earth_magnetic_field.html">magnetic field of the Earth</a>. 
These belts were <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/radiation_belts_discovery.html">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>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">methane</a>, a powerful <a href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html">greenhouse gas</a>.
Watch the NBC Learn video - <a href="/earth/changing_planet/permafrost_methane_intro.html">Thawing Permafrost and Methane</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of the    USGS</em></small></p>March 2012 marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html">earthquake</a>, <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html">tsunami</a>, and resulting nuclear accident in Japan on <a href="/headline_universe/march112011earthquaketsunami.html">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>Scientists at the University of Michigan have found that <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_permafrost1.html">permafrost</a> in the <a href="/earth/polar/polar_north.html">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">climate-warming</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html">carbon dioxide</a>, to the <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html">atmosphere</a> much faster than previously thought.<p><small><em>George Kling, The University of Michigan</em></small></p>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html">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>

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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