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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, 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">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="">press release</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Toby Hudson (Wikimedia Commons)</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="">GeoEye/EyeQ</a>.</em></small></p>A sinuous glowing band of <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html">aurora</a> (the Aurora Australis
  or Southern Lights) loops around the <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html">southern polar</a>
region in the
  distance as viewed by astronauts onboard the space shuttle on <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora/aurora_colors.html">Aurora are produced</a>
  when <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/particle_radiation.html">energetic particles</a>
 entering the Earth's
  atmosphere from space interact with <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/atom.html">atoms</a> and <a
  href="/earth/geology/molecule.html">molecules</a> in the atmosphere and
  release energy, emitted as light. <p><small><em>Courtesy of NASA, Astronaut Overmeyer and Dr. Hallinan</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="">Hurricane Sandy</a> for details.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>As temperatures rise and soil moisture decreases, plants are stressed, which can lead to <a href="/earth/climate/crops_withering.html">crop withering</a>. <a href="/teacher_resources/online_courses/health/events_health.html">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">Changing Planet: Withering Crops</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image taken by Tomas Castelazo, Creative Commons <a href=&quot;;>Attribution 3.0 Unported</a> license.</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
  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 by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF