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 is the third planet from the Sun. It is the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets. It is sometimes referred to as the world or the Blue Planet.
Earth formed approximately 4.54 billion years ago, and life appeared on its surface within its first billion years. Earth's biosphere then significantly altered the atmospheric and other basic physical conditions, which enabled the proliferation of organisms as well as the formation of the ozone layer, which together with Earth's magnetic field blocked harmful solar radiation, and permitted formerly ocean-confined life to move safely to land. The physical properties of the Earth, as well as its geological history and orbit, have allowed life to persist. Estimates on how much longer the planet will be able to continue to support life range from 500 million years (myr), to as long as 2.3 billion years (byr).
Earth's lithosphere is divided into several rigid segments, or tectonic plates, that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. About 71% of the surface is covered by salt water oceans, 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.[note 7] 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.
The planet is home to millions of species of life, including humans. Both the mineral resources of the planet and the products of the biosphere contribute resources that are used to support a global human population. These inhabitants are grouped into about 200 independent sovereign states, which interact through diplomacy, travel, trade, and military action. Human cultures have developed many views of the planet, including its personification as a planetary deity, its shape as flat, its position as the center of the universe, and in the modern Gaia Principle, as a single, self-regulating organism in its own right.
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