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.

This iconic image of Earth rising above the surface of the <a
  href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html&edu=high">Moon</a>,
  was taken on December 24, 1968 by astronauts on the <a
  href="/space_missions/apollo8.html&edu=high">Apollo 8
  mission</a>. Apollo 8 was the first <a
  href="/space_missions/manned.html&edu=high">manned
  mission</a> to the Moon, and entered into lunar orbit on Christmas Eve. That
  evening, the astronauts held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their
  spacecraft.<p><small><em> Image courtesy of   NASA</em></small></p>This first global map of <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/ocean.html">ocean</a> surface saltiness, released in September 2012 by the NASA Aquarius mission team, shows the distribution of salt in the first 2 cm of the Earth's ocean. <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/salinity.html">Salinity</a> variations are one of the main drivers of <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/circulation1.html">ocean circulation</a>, and are closely connected with the <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Water/water_cycle.html">cycling of freshwater</a> around the planet. High salinity is seen in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and the Arabian Sea.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech</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="http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_278202_en.html">press release</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Toby Hudson (Wikimedia Commons)</em></small></p>As temperatures rise and soil moisture decreases, plants are stressed, which can lead to <a href="/earth/climate/crops_withering.html&edu=high">crop withering</a>. <a href="/teacher_resources/online_courses/health/events_health.html&edu=high">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&edu=high">Changing Planet: Withering Crops</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image taken by Tomas Castelazo, Creative Commons <a href=&quot;http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en&quot;>Attribution 3.0 Unported</a> license.</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>A view of the Earth as seen by the <a href="/space_missions/apollo17.html&edu=high">Apollo
17</a> crew
while traveling to the
<a href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html&edu=high">Moon</a> on
December 7, 1972.  Africa, Madagascar, and the Arabian Peninsula are
visible, and you can barely make out the
<a href="/earth/polar/antarctica.html&edu=high">Antarctic</a>,
shrouded in the heavy
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html&edu=high">cloud</a> cover
in the southern hemisphere.
Arching cloud patterns show the presence of <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/front.html&edu=high">weather
fronts</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NASA/Apollo 17.</em></small></p>

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