Earth’s gravity interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite. Earth revolves around the Sun in 365.26 days, a period known as an Earth year. During this time, Earth rotates about its axis about 366.26 times.
Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted, producing seasonal variations on the planet’s surface. The gravitational interaction between the Earth and Moon causes ocean tides, stabilizes the Earth’s orientation on its axis, and gradually slows its rotation. Earth is the densest planet in the Solar System and the largest of the four terrestrial planets.
Earth’s lithosphere is divided into several rigid tectonic plates that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. About 71% of Earth’s surface is covered with water, mostly by oceans. The remaining 29% is land consisting of continents and islands that together have many lakes, rivers and other sources of water that contribute to the hydrosphere. The majority of Earth’s polar regions are covered in ice, including the Antarctic ice sheet and the sea ice of the Arctic ice pack. Earth’s interior remains active with a solid iron inner core, a liquid outer core that generates the Earth’s magnetic field, and a convecting mantle that drives plate tectonics.
Earth Long Ago
Earth, The Early Years:
Within the first billion years of Earth’s history, life appeared in the oceans and began to affect the Earth’s atmosphere and surface, leading to the proliferation of aerobic and anaerobic organisms. Some geological evidence indicates that life may have arisen as much as 4.1 billion years ago. Since then, the combination of Earth’s distance from the Sun, physical properties, and geological history have allowed life to evolve and thrive. In the history of the Earth, biodiversity has gone through long periods of expansion, occasionally punctuated by mass extinction events. Over 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth are extinct. Estimates of the number of species on Earth today vary widely; most species have not been described. Over 7.6 billion humans live on Earth and depend on its biosphere and natural resources for their survival. Humans have developed diverse societies and cultures; politically, the world has about 200 sovereign states.
Launched in Nov. 1973, Mariner 10 made three close approaches to Mercury in 1974 and 75. Among its discoveries was that Mercury had its own weak magnetic field – about one percent as strong as that found on Earth.
“Scientists had not expected to find a magnetic field at Mercury,” said Professor Jean-Luc Margot of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., leader of the research team. “Planetary magnetic fields are associated with molten cores, and the prevailing theory was the planet was too small to have a molten core.”
Scientists theorized that Mercury consisted of a silicate mantle surrounding a solid iron core. This iron was considered solid – or so the theory went – because small planets like Mercury cool off rapidly after their formation. If Mercury followed this pattern, then its core should have frozen long ago.
Earth, Beneath the Surface:
The Earth consists of four concentric layers: inner core, outer core, mantle and crust. The crust is made up of tectonic plates, which are in constant motion. Earthquakes and volcanoes are most likely to occur at plate boundaries.
There are two different types of crust: continental crust, which carries land, and oceanic crust, which carries water. The diagram below shows the structure of the earth. In geography, taking a slice through a structure to see inside is called a cross section.
The Layers of the Earth:
- The inner core is in the centre and is the hottest part of the Earth. It is solid and made up of iron and nickel with temperatures of up to 5,500°C. With its immense heat energy, the inner core is like the engine room of the Earth.
- The outer core is the layer surrounding the inner core. It is a liquid layer, also made up of iron and nickel. It is still extremely hot, with temperatures similar to the inner core.
- The mantle is the widest section of the Earth. It has a thickness of approximately 2,900 km. The mantle is made up of semi-molten rock called magma. In the upper parts of the mantle the rock is hard, but lower down the rock is soft and beginning to melt.
- The crust is the outer layer of the earth. It is a thin layer between 0-60 km thick. The crust is the solid rock layer upon which we live.
- The Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing. This deceleration is happening almost imperceptibly, at approximately 17 milliseconds per hundred years, although the rate at which it occurs is not perfectly uniform. This has the effect of lengthening our days, but it happens so slowly that it could be as much as 140 million years before the length of a day will have increased to 25 hours.
- The Earth was once believed to be the centre of the universe. Due to the apparent movements of the Sun and planets in relation to their viewpoint, ancient scientists insisted that the Earth remained static, whilst other celestial bodies travelled in circular orbits around it. Eventually, the view that the Sun was at the centre of the universe was postulated by Copernicus, though this is also not the case.
- Earth has a powerful magnetic field. This phenomenon is caused by the nickel-iron core of the planet, coupled with its rapid rotation. This field protects the Earth from the effects of solar wind.
- Earth is the only planet not named after a god. The other seven planets in our solar system are all named after Roman gods or goddesses. Although only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were named during ancient times, because they were visible to the naked eye, the Roman method of naming planets was retained after the discovery of Uranus and Neptune.
- The Earth is the densest planet in the Solar System. This varies according to the part of the planet; for example, the metallic core is denser than the crust. The average density of the Earth is approximately 5.52 grams per cubic centimetre.
- There is only one natural satellite of the planet Earth. As a percentage of the size of the body it orbits, the Moon is the largest satellite of any planet in our solar system. In real terms, however, it is only the fifth largest natural satellite.