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Earth's Interior and Surface

Earth, the largest rocky planet, was formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The Earth's interior is divided into four layers which is typical of rocky planets. It is cool on the surface but very hot deep inside the planet. The center, or core, is as hot as 9000 degrees F.

The Earth's surface is unique from the other planets because it is the only one with liquid water. Water helps to make surface features such as rivers, lakes and oceans. The moving plates of the Earthís surface form other surface features such as mountains, earthquakes and volcanoes.

Gold or Foolís Gold? There are two easy ways to tell Foolís Gold, the
  <a
  href="/earth/geology/min_intro.html&edu=elem">mineral</a>
  <a
  href="/earth/geology/min_pyrite.html&edu=elem">pyrite</a>,
  from real gold. First, pyrite leaves a black streak on a white tile whereas
  gold leaves, well, a gold streak. Also, pyrite is much harder than gold.
  Pyrite is made up of the <a
  href="/earth/geology/periodic_table.html&edu=elem">elements</a>
  iron (Fe) and sulfur (S).† Both of these two elements are among the <a
  href="/earth/geology/crust_elements.html&edu=elem">eight
  most abundant</a> in the <a
  href="/earth/interior/earths_crust.html&edu=elem">Earthís
  crust</a>.<p><small><em> Courtesy of Corel</em></small></p>This is the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. The diameter is 1.2
  kilomters, and it is 49,000 years old. Compared with other planets, <a
  href="/earth/Interior_Structure/crater.html&edu=elem">impact
  craters</a> are rare <a
  href="/earth/Interior_Structure/surface_features.html&edu=elem">surface
  features</a> on Earth. There are two main reasons for the low number of
  craters. One is that our <a
  href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=elem">atmosphere</a>
  burns up most <a
  href="/our_solar_system/meteors/meteors.html&edu=elem">meteoroids</a>
  before they reach the surface. The other reason is that Earth's surface is <a
  href="/earth/interior/plate_tectonics.html&edu=elem">continually
  active</a> and erases the marks of craters over time.<p><small><em>D. Roddy and LPI</em></small></p>The most majestic of the volcanoes are composite volcanoes, also
  known as strato-volcanoes. Unlike the <a
  href="/earth/interior/shield_volcanos.html&edu=elem">shield
  volcanoes</a> which are flat and broad, composite volcanoes are tall,
  symmetrically shaped, with steep sides, sometimes rising 10,000 feet high.
  They are built of alternating layers of <a
  href="/earth/interior/lava.html&edu=elem">lava</a>
  flows, volcanic <a
  href="/earth/interior/ash.html&edu=elem">ash</a>,
  cinders, blocks, and bombs.† This is a photo of Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador.<p><small><em>The U.S. Geological Survey</em></small></p>An <a href="http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usc000905e.php">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&edu=elem">earthquake</a> and <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=elem">tsunami</a> processes. Check out the resources <a href="/teacher_resources/2011_AGU-NESTA_GIFT_Workshop.html&edu=elem">here</a>.<p><small><em>NOAA</em></small></p>Hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean are located at tectonic <a
  href="/earth/interior/seafloor_spreading.html&edu=elem">spreading
  ridges</a>. While most of the water in the deep ocean is close to freezing,
  the water at hydrothermal vents is very hot and laden with chemicals.† In
  this <a
  href="/earth/extreme_environments.html&edu=elem">extreme
  environment</a>, certain species of <a
  href="/earth/Life/archaea.html&edu=elem">Archaea</a>
  and <a
  href="/earth/Life/classification_eubacteria.html&edu=elem">Eubacteria</a>
  thrive, enabling a unique <a
  href="/earth/Water/life_deep.html&edu=elem">food
  chain</a> including fish, shrimp, giant tubeworms, mussels, crabs, and clams.<p><small><em> Courtesy of NASA</em></small></p>Sinkholes are <a href="/teacher_resources/main/frameworks/esl_bi8.html&edu=elem">natural hazards</a> in many places around the world. They are formed when water dissolves underlying <a href="/earth/Water/carbonates.html&edu=elem">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