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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">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 first global map of <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/ocean.html">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="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/salinity.html">Salinity</a> variations are one of the main drivers of <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/circulation1.html">ocean circulation</a>, and are closely connected with the <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/water_cycle.html">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>A new study has found that <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/airpollution_intro.html">pollution</a> from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html">fine particles</a> in the air - mainly the result of burning coal or <a href="/earth/interior/eruptions.html">volcanic eruptions</a> - can shade <a href="/earth/Life/cnidarian.html">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>An image of Hurricane Sandy taken by the GOES-13 satellite on October 28.  This category 1 <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/hurricane/hurricane.html">hurricane</a> was huge, spanning a horizontal distance of about one-third the US continental landmass.  The storm came onshore in New Jersey, and gradually moved northeast.  The storm disrupted the lives of tens of millions in the eastern US, doing billions of dollars in damage, resulting in over 30 deaths.  Visit the National Hurricane Center's webpage on <a href="http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/">Hurricane Sandy</a> for details.<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">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>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>

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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