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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.

March 2012 marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&edu=high">earthquake</a>, <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=high">tsunami</a>, and resulting nuclear accident in Japan on <a href="/headline_universe/march112011earthquaketsunami.html&edu=high">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>An artist's rendering of the moment of impact of a massive <a
  at the end of the Cretaceous (at the end of the <a
  Era</a>). Many
  scientists have concluded for decades that a meteorite four to six kilometers
  in diameter impacted the Earth at this time, resulting in a <a
  href="/earth/past/KTextinction.html&edu=high">mass extinction
  of dinosaurs</a> and many other life forms. Recent research suggests that
 perhaps <a
  volcanic eruptions</a> may be been responsible for the extinction.<p><small><em>Courtesy of Don Davis, NASA</em></small></p>Scientists at the University of Michigan have found that <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_permafrost1.html&edu=high">permafrost</a> in the <a href="/earth/polar/polar_north.html&edu=high">Arctic</a> is extremely sensitive to sunlight.  Exposure to sunlight releases carbon gases trapped in the permafrost, including <a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html&edu=high">climate-warming</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html&edu=high">carbon dioxide</a>, to the <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=high">atmosphere</a> much faster than previously thought.<p><small><em>George Kling, The University of Michigan</em></small></p>A new study has found that <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/airpollution_intro.html&edu=high">pollution</a> from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html&edu=high">fine particles</a> in the air - mainly the result of burning coal or <a href="/earth/interior/eruptions.html&edu=high">volcanic eruptions</a> - can shade <a href="/earth/Life/cnidarian.html&edu=high">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>How did life evolve on <a href="/earth/earth.html&edu=high">Earth</a> during the <a href="/earth/past/Archean.html&edu=high">Archean</a>, when the <a href="/sun/sun.html&edu=high">Sun</a> was about 25% weaker than today?  The Earth should have been <a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html&edu=high">glaciated</a>, if <a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html&edu=high">greenhouse</a> gas concentration was the same as today.  <a href="">Researchers</a> studying the <a href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/isotope.html&edu=high">isotopic</a> signatures of Earth's early atmosphere in <a href="/earth/geology/rocks_intro.html&edu=high">rocks</a> from Northern Australia have ruled out high levels of <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/nitrogen_molecular.html&edu=high">nitrogen</a> as a possible way to increase warming from <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/overview.html&edu=high">atmospheric</a> <a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html&edu=high">carbon dioxide</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Manchester University</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&edu=high">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>

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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