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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 view of the Earth as seen by the <a href="/space_missions/apollo17.html">Apollo
17</a> crew
while traveling to the
<a href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html">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">Antarctic</a>,
shrouded in the heavy
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html">cloud</a> cover
in the southern hemisphere.
Arching cloud patterns show the presence of <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/front.html">weather
fronts</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/Apollo 17.</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>An <a href="">8.6 magnitude earthquake</a> struck on 11 April 2012 off of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, followed by a strong aftershock.  Earthquake motion was primarily horizontal.  A tsunami warning was issued for the Indian Ocean, but was cancelled at 12:36 UTC.  A tsunami was observed at 1 meter or less. Find out more about <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html">earthquake</a> and <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html">tsunami</a> processes. Check out the resources <a href="/teacher_resources/2011_AGU-NESTA_GIFT_Workshop.html">here</a>.<p><small><em>NOAA</em></small></p>This first global map of <a href="">ocean</a> surface saltiness, released in September 2012 by the NASA Aquarius mission team, shows the distribution of salt in the first 2 cm of the Earth's ocean. <a href="">Salinity</a> variations are one of the main drivers of <a href="">ocean circulation</a>, and are closely connected with the <a href="">cycling of freshwater</a> around the planet. High salinity is seen in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and the Arabian Sea.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech</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