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The Earth as viewed from the Moon during the Apollo 8 mission.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NASA

Earth as a System

The first time people got to see the whole Earth was in 1968 when astronauts took pictures of the Earth as they traveled to and from the Moon.  In their photographs, the Earth looks like a small blue and white marble in a sea of black space.  Looking at the planet from that far away makes it easy to see that all its parts - the living things, the air, the water, the ice, and the rocks - are connected.  Everything on Earth is in the same boat floating through space - a system.

Since the 1980s, NASA scientists have been studying the Earth as they study other planets - mainly from above with satellites. Based on this way of looking at Earth, they developed the idea of Earth system science.  

There are five parts of the Earth system. Plus the Sun plays a special role too. These parts of the Earth system all interact with other parts in many ways.

Last modified August 16, 2013 by Roberta Johnson.

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The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!

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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