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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.

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&dev=1">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&dev=1">Changing Planet: Fresh Water in the Arctic video</a>.<p><small><em> Courtesy of Jack Cook, WHOI (<a href="">Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute</a>)</em></small></p>A sinuous glowing band of <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora.html&edu=high&dev=1">aurora</a> (the Aurora Australis
  or Southern Lights) loops around the <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html&edu=high&dev=1">southern polar</a>
region in the
  distance as viewed by astronauts onboard the space shuttle on <a
  href="/earth/Magnetosphere/aurora/aurora_colors.html&edu=high&dev=1">Aurora are produced</a>
  when <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/particle_radiation.html&edu=high&dev=1">energetic particles</a>
 entering the Earth's
  atmosphere from space interact with <a
  href="/physical_science/physics/atom_particle/atom.html&edu=high&dev=1">atoms</a> and <a
  href="/earth/geology/molecule.html&edu=high&dev=1">molecules</a> in the atmosphere and
  release energy, emitted as light. <p><small><em>Courtesy of NASA, Astronaut Overmeyer and Dr. Hallinan</em></small></p>This iconic image of Earth rising above the surface of the <a
  was taken on December 24, 1968 by astronauts on the <a
  href="/space_missions/apollo8.html&edu=high&dev=1">Apollo 8
  mission</a>.  Apollo 8 was the first <a
  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>Lunar eclipses are special events that only occur when certain conditions are met. First of all, the Moon must be in <a href="/the_universe/uts/moon3.html&edu=high&dev=1">full phase</a>. Secondly, the <a href="/sun/sun.html&edu=high&dev=1">Sun</a>, <a href="/earth/earth.html&edu=high&dev=1">Earth</a> and <a href="/earth/moons_and_rings.html&edu=high&dev=1">Moon</a> must be in a perfectly straight line. If both of these are met, then the Earth's shadow can block the Sun's light from hitting the Moon.  The reddish glow of the Moon is caused by light from the Earth's limb scattering toward the Moon, which is reflected back to us from the Moon's surface.<p><small><em>Image credit - Doug Murray, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida</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&dev=1">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>March 2012 marks the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude <a href="/earth/geology/quake_1.html&edu=high&dev=1">earthquake</a>, <a href="/earth/tsunami1.html&edu=high&dev=1">tsunami</a>, and resulting nuclear accident in Japan on <a href="/headline_universe/march112011earthquaketsunami.html&edu=high&dev=1">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>

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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