Earth, the third planet from the Sun, is unique in the Universe as it is currently the only planet known to support life. It has a single natural satellite, the Moon, and is the fifth largest planet in the Solar System.
Earth's distance from the Sun is thought to be one of the key reasons why it is home to widespread life. Our planet occupies what scientists sometimes call the Goldilocks zone. Its distance from our star means it is neither too hot, nor too cold to support liquid water - thought to be a key ingredient for life. Astronomers are searching for rocky planets like ours in the Goldilocks zones of other stars.
BBC Earth has exciting videos about volcanoes, earthquakes and more.
Photo: The Earth rising behind the Moon taken by the Apollo 16 crew (NASA)
Our life-filled home is unique in the Universe (so far).
The discovery of hardy life on Earth opens up the search for life on other planets.
The 1978 discovery of life at the bottom of the Earth's oceans – where sunlight does not reach – helped space scientists realise that life could exist below other planets' surfaces. They decided that water was the key ingredient for Earth-like extraterrestrial life.
The inner planets' atmospheres developed very differently.
Researchers believe that in the early days of the Solar System, Earth, Venus and Mars had similar atmospheres, but they developed very differently. Mars couldn't hold onto its atmosphere, while a runaway greenhouse effect may have boiled away oceans on Venus. Earth, on the other hand, benefited from its greenhouse effect.
Enjoy Astronomer Marek Kukula's guide to the Solar System.
If Jupiter were much larger it would be a star in its own right! Enjoy Astronomer Marek Kukula's eloquent guide to the Sun, the planets and the outer reaches of the Solar System.
Our planet develops its inner heat.
Dr Iain Stewart explains how the Earth developed its inner heat during a time known as the Hadean eon, about 4.5 billion years ago.
Prof Brian Cox demonstrates gravity’s force on other planets.
Prof Brian Cox simulates the strength of gravity on other planets through a human centrifuge in Holland.
Earth, also known as the world,Terra, or Gaia, is the third planet from the Sun, the densest planet in the Solar System, the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets, and the only celestial body known to accommodate life. It is home to millions of species, including billions of humans who depend upon its biosphere and minerals. The Earth's human population is divided among about two hundred independent states that interact through diplomacy, conflict, travel, trade, and media.
According to evidence from sources such as radiometric dating, Earth was formed around four and a half billion years ago. Within its first billion years,life appeared in its oceans and began to affect its atmosphere and surface, promoting the proliferation of aerobic as well as anaerobic organisms and causing the formation of the atmosphere's ozone layer. This layer and Earth's magnetic field block the most life-threatening parts of the Sun's radiation, so life was able to flourish on land as well as in water. Since then, Earth's position in the Solar System, its physical properties and its geological history have allowed life to persist.
Earth's lithosphere is divided into several rigid segments, or tectonic plates, that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. Over 70% percent of Earth's surface is covered with water, with the remainder consisting of continents and islands which together have many lakes and other sources of water that contribute to the hydrosphere. Earth's poles are mostly covered with ice that is the solid ice of the Antarctic ice sheet and the sea ice that is the polar ice packs. The planet's interior remains active, with a solid iron inner core, a liquid outer core that generates the magnetic field, and a thick layer of relatively solid mantle.
Earth gravitationally interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. During one orbit around the Sun, the Earth rotates about its own axis 366.26 times, creating 365.26 solar days, or one sidereal year.[n 6] The Earth's axis of rotation is tilted 23.4° away from the perpendicular of its orbital plane, producing seasonal variations on the planet's surface with a period of one tropical year (365.24 solar days). The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. It began orbiting the Earth about 4.53 billion years ago (bya). The Moon's gravitational interaction with Earth stimulates ocean tides, stabilizes the axial tilt, and gradually slows the planet's rotation.
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