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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This is an artist's rendition of Earth's primordial environment and the beginnings of life.
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Earths Primordial Environment

In the beginning, Earth had a hydrogen based atmosphere. Examples of molecules which were present include methane, CH4, hydrogen, H2, and ammonia, NH3. In time, the early atmosphere of Earth changed from a hydrogen dominated one to one which contained oxygen-rich molecules. Examples of those molecules include carbon dioxide, CO2, water vapor, H2O, and sulphur dioxide, SO2. In its early state, however, Earth's atmosphere resembled other primitive atmospheres. Jupiter's atmosphere is an example of what such primitive atmospheres must have been like. This is because, unlike smaller planets, Jupiter has such enormous gravity that it retains every molecule, and elements of the atmosphere cannot drift away as they do on other planets. Therefore scientists think that Jupiter's atmosphere today is representative of the ancient atmospheres of the smaller planets.

Certain chemical reactions require energy to make them go. That energy comes from ultraviolet (UV) light or lightning. Ultraviolet light and lightning can link small molecules together to make larger ones. The Miller-Urey experiment showed that ultraviolet light plus lightning in a hydrogen-based atmosphere can produce interesting chemicals which form the foundation of living cells.

Earth's early environment was friendly to this process because the early atmosphere did not provide protection from ultraviolet light. On Earth today, the ozone layer, O3 absorbs almost all but the longest wavelengths of UV. On the early Earth, there was little free oxygen, so UV from the sun fell directly onto the surface of the Earth.

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The Fall 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on rocks and minerals, including articles on minerals and mining, the use of minerals in society, and rare earth minerals, and includes 3 posters!

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Coacervates

In the warm primordial ocean, aggregates of amino acids, proteins, and other hydrocarbons came together into a form called *coacervates*. Amino acids will spontaneously form coacervates in the same way...more

What’s That Mineral?

Spotting minerals is fun! There are many different types of minerals, each with a different name and a special set of characteristics. So, if you find a mineral that you do not recognize, you can use...more

Quartz

Quartz is one of the most common mineral in Earth’s crust! Silica (Si) and Oxygen (O) are the only elements within pure quartz. If a cooling magma has silica leftover after feldspars form, quartz is likely...more

Mica Minerals

Mica minerals make some rocks sparkle! They are often found in igneous rocks such as granite and metamorphic rocks such as schist. They sparkle because light is reflected on their flat surfaces, which...more

Feldspar

Feldspar is the most common mineral in the Earth’s crust, so you are very likely to find it in the rocks you collect! It is found it all of the three rock types, but is most common in intrusive igneous...more

Olivine

Olivine looks like little green crystals. It is typically found in some igneous and metamorphic rocks. Often the crystals are so small that you need to use your hand lens or magnifying glass to see them...more

Type of Minerals

So far, over 2000 minerals have been found, and every year new ones are discovered. That's a lot of minerals! Don't worry! You don't need to know them all to be a rock hound. In fact, only a few dozen...more

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