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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.

The massive 9.0 magnitude <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&edu=high">earthquake</a> off of Honshu, Japan on <a href="/headline_universe/march112011earthquaketsunami.html&edu=high">11 March 2011</a> generated a <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=high">tsunami</a> that exceeded 10 meters on the coast near the epicenter.  This image shows model projections for the tsunami wave height in cm which are in good agreement with the observed waves. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were lost, and their families, as we remember this event.<p><small><em><a href="http://blogs.agu.org/wildwildscience/files/2011/03/680_20110311-TsunamiWaveHeight.jpg">NOAA Tsunami Wave Height Projections image</a></em></small></p>Scientists are concerned that melting Arctic sea ice will increase the amount of fresh water in the <a href="/earth/polar/arctic_currents.html&edu=high">Beaufort Gyre</a>, which could spill out into the Atlantic and cause major climate shifts in North America and Western Europe. Watch the <a href="/earth/changing_planet/freshwater_arctic.html&edu=high">Changing Planet: Fresh Water in the Arctic video</a>.<p><small><em> Courtesy of Jack Cook, WHOI (<a href="http://www.whoi.edu">Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute</a>)</em></small></p>Coral animals build reefs in warm, tropical seawater. However, <a href="/earth/changing_planet/ocean_temperatures_intro.html&edu=high">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>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="http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=10798">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>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>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="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/13/world/asia/satellite-photos-japan-before-and-after-tsunami.html?hp">GeoEye/EyeQ</a>.</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