|Earth, also known as the Earth, Terra, and (mostly in the 19th century) Tellus, is the third-closest planet to the Sun. It is the largest of the solar system's terrestrial planets, and the only planetary body that modern science confirms as harboring life. The planet formed around 4.57 billion (4.57×109) years ago, and shortly thereafter (4.533 billion years ago) acquired its single natural satellite, the Moon.
Its astronomical symbol consists of a circled cross, representing a meridian and the equator; a variant puts the cross atop the circle (Unicode: ⊕ or ♁). Besides words derived from Terra, such as terrestrial, terms that refer to the Earth include tellur- (telluric, tellurian, from the Roman goddess Tellūs) and geo- (geocentric, geothermal; from the Greek goddess Gaia).
The Earth's shape is that of an oblate spheroid, with an average diameter of approximately 12,742 km. The rotation of the Earth causes the equator to bulge out slightly so that the equatorial diameter is 43 km larger than the pole to pole diameter. The largest local deviations in the rocky surface of the Earth are Mount Everest (8,850 m above local sea level) and the Mariana Trench (10,911 m below local sea level). Hence compared to a perfect ellipsoid, the Earth has a tolerance of about one part in about 584, or 0.17%. For perspective, this is less than the 0.22% tolerance allowed in pool balls. Due to the bulge, the feature farthest from the center of the Earth is actually Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. The mass of the Earth is approximately 5,980 yottagrams (5.98 x 1024 kg).
The interior of the Earth, like that of the other terrestrial planets, is chemically divided into an outer siliceous solid crust, a highly viscous mantle, a liquid outer core that is much less viscous than the mantle, and a solid inner core. The liquid outer core gives rise to a weak magnetic field due to the convection of its electrically conductive material.
New material constantly finds its way to the surface through volcanoes and cracks in the ocean floors (see seafloor spreading). Many of the rocks now making up the Earth's crust formed less than 100 million (1×108) years ago; however the oldest known mineral grains are 4.4 billion (4.4×109) years old, indicating that the Earth has had a solid crust for at least that long.
Main article: geothermal (geology)
The interior of the Earth reaches temperatures of 5650 +/- 600 kelvins. The planet's internal heat was originally generated during its accretion (see gravitational binding energy), and since then additional heat has continued to be generated by the decay of radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium, and potassium. The heat flow from the interior to the surface is only 1/20,000 as great as the energy received from the Sun.
The average density of the Earth is 5515 kg/m3, making it the densest planet in the Solar system. Since the average density of surface material is only around 3000 kg/m3, we must conclude that denser materials exist within the core of the Earth. In its earliest stages, about 4.5 billion (4.5×109) years ago, melting would have caused denser substances to sink toward the center in a process called planetary differentiation, while less-dense materials would have migrated to the crust. As a result, the core is largely composed of iron (80%), along with nickel and one or more light elements, whereas other dense elements, such as lead and uranium, either are too rare to be significant or tend to bind to lighter elements and thus remain in the crust (see felsic materials).
The core is divided into two parts, a solid inner core with a radius of ~1250 km and a liquid outer core extending beyond it to a radius of ~3500 km. The inner core is generally believed to be solid and composed primarily of iron and some nickel. Some have argued that the inner core may be in the form of a single iron crystal. The outer core surrounds the inner core and is believed to be composed of liquid iron mixed with liquid nickel and trace amounts of lighter elements. It is generally believed that convection in the outer core, combined with stirring caused by the Earth's rotation (see: Coriolis effect), gives rise to the Earth's magnetic field through a process described by the dynamo theory. The solid inner core is too hot to hold a permanent magnetic field (see Curie temperature) but probably acts to stabilise the magnetic field generated by the liquid outer core.
Recent evidence has suggested that the inner core of Earth may rotate slightly faster than the rest of the planet. In August 2005 a team of geophysicists announced in the journal Science that, according to their estimates, the earth's core rotated approximately 0.3 to 0.5 degrees per year relative to the rotation of the surface
The crust ranges from 5 to 70 km in depth. The thin parts are oceanic crust composed of dense (mafic) iron magnesium silicate rocks and underlie the ocean basins. The thicker crust is continental crust, which is less dense and composed of (felsic) sodium potassium aluminium silicate rocks. The crust-mantle boundary occurs as two physically different events. First, there is a discontinuity in the seismic velocity, which is known as the Mohorovičić discontinuity or Moho. The cause of the Moho is thought to be a change in rock composition from rocks containing plagioclase feldspar (above) to rocks that contain no feldspars (below). Second, there is a chemical discontinuity between ultramafic cumulates and tectonized harzburgites, which has been observed from deep parts of the oceanic crust that have been obducted into the continental crust and preseved as ophiolite sequences.
Earth has a relatively thick atmosphere composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% argon, plus traces of other gases including carbon dioxide and water vapor. The atmosphere acts as a buffer between Earth and the Sun. The Earth's atmospheric composition is unstable, and is maintained by the biosphere. The large amount of free diatomic oxygen is maintained through solar energy by the Earth's plants, and, without the plants supplying it, the oxygen in the atmosphere will over geological timescales combine with material from the surface of the Earth. Free oxygen in the atmosphere is a signature of life.
The layers, troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere, and the exosphere, vary around the globe and in response to seasonal changes.
The total mass of the atmosphere is about 5.1×1018 kg, ca. 0.9 ppm of the Earth's total mass.
Earth is the only planet in our solar system whose surface is known to have liquid water. Water covers 71% of Earth's surface (97% of it being sea water and 3% fresh water ); the surface is divided into five oceans and seven continents. Earth's solar orbit, vulcanism, gravity, greenhouse effect, magnetic field and oxygen-rich atmosphere seem to combine to make Earth a water planet.
Earth is actually beyond the outer edge of the orbits which would be warm enough to form liquid water. Without some form of a greenhouse effect, Earth's water would freeze. Paleontological evidence indicates that at one point after blue-green bacteria (Cyanobacteria) had colonized the oceans, the greenhouse effect failed, and Earth's oceans may have completely frozen over for 10 to 100 million years in what is called a snowball Earth event.
On other planets, such as Venus, gaseous water is destroyed (cracked) by solar ultraviolet radiation, and the hydrogen is ionized and blown away by the solar wind. This effect is slow, but inexorable. This is one hypothesis explaining why Venus has no water. Without hydrogen, the oxygen interacts with the surface and is bound up in solid minerals.
In the Earth's atmosphere, a tenuous layer of ozone within the stratosphere absorbs most of this energetic ultraviolet radiation high in the atmosphere, reducing the cracking effect. The ozone, too, can only be produced in an atmosphere with a large amount of free diatomic oxygen, and so also is dependent on the biosphere (plants). The magnetosphere also shields the ionosphere from direct scouring by the solar wind.
Finally, vulcanism continuously emits water vapor from the interior. Earth's plate tectonics recycle carbon and water as limestone rocks are subducted into the mantle and volcanically released as gaseous carbon dioxide and steam. It is estimated that the minerals in the mantle may contain as much as 10 times the water as in all of the current oceans, though most of this trapped water will never be released.
The total mass of the hydrosphere is about 1.4×1021 kg, ca. 0.023% of the Earth's total mass.
Earth in the Solar System
It takes the Earth 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds (1 sidereal day) to rotate around the axis connecting the north pole and the south pole. From Earth, the main apparent motion of celestial bodies in the sky (except meteors which are within the atmosphere and low-orbiting satellites) is the movement to the west at a rate of 15 °/h = 15'/min, i.e., a Sun or Moon diameter every two minutes.
Earth orbits the Sun every 365.2564 mean solar days (1 sidereal year). From Earth, this gives an apparent movement of the Sun with respect to the stars at a rate of ca. 1 °/day, i.e., a Sun or Moon diameter every 12 hours eastward.
The orbital speed of the Earth averages about 30 km/s, which is enough to cover one Earth diameter (~12,700 km) in 7 minutes, and one distance to the Moon (384,000 km) in 4 hours.
Earth has one natural satellite, the Moon, which orbits around Earth every 27 1/3 days. From Earth this gives an apparent movement of the Moon with respect to the Sun and the stars at a rate of roughly 12 °/day, i.e., a Moon diameter every hour eastward.
Viewed from Earth's north pole, the motion of Earth, its moon and their axial rotations are all counterclockwise.
The orbital and axial planes are not precisely aligned: Earth's axis is tilted some 23.5 degrees against the Earth-Sun plane (which causes the seasons); and the Earth-Moon plane is tilted about 5 degrees against the Earth-Sun plane (otherwise there would be an eclipse every month).
The Hill sphere (sphere of influence) of the Earth is about 1.5 Gm (930 thousand miles) in radius, within which one natural satellite (the Moon) comfortably orbits.
In an inertial reference frame, the Earth's axis undergoes a slow precessional motion with a period of some 25,800 years, as well as a nutation with a main period of 18.6 years. These motions are caused by the differential attraction of Sun and Moon on the equatorial bulge due to the Earth's oblateness. In a reference frame attached to the solid body of the Earth, its rotation is also slightly irregular due to polar motion. The polar motion is quasi-periodic, containing an annual component and a component with a 14-month period called the Chandler wobble. Also, the rotational velocity varies, a phenomenon known as length of day variation.
In modern times, Earth's perihelion is always about January 3, and aphelion is about July 4. For other eras, see precession and Milankovitch cycles.
Descriptions of Earth
Earth has often been personified as a deity, in particular a goddess (see Gaia and Mother Earth). The Chinese earth goddess Hu-Tu, is similar to Gaia, the deification of the earth. The patroness of fertility, her element is earth. In Norse mythology, the earth goddess Jord was the mother of Thor and the daughter of Annar.
Since Earth is rather large, it is not immediately obvious to the naked eye viewing from the surface that it is an oblate spheroid, bulging slightly at the equator and slightly flattened at the poles. In the past there were varying levels of belief in a flat Earth because of this. Prior to the introduction of space flight, this belief was countered with deductions based on observations of the secondary effects of the earth's shape and parallels drawn with the shape of other planets. Cartography, the study and practice of mapmaking, and vicariously geography, have historically been the disciplines devoted to depicting the earth. Surveying, the determination of locations and distances, and to a somewhat lesser extent navigation, the determination of position and direction, have developed alongside cartography and geography, providing and suitably quantifying the requisite information.
The technological developments of the latter half of the 20th century are widely considered to have altered the public's perception of the Earth. A photo taken of Earth by Voyager 1 inspired Carl Sagan to describe the planet as a "Pale Blue Dot". Earth has also been described as a massive spaceship, with a life support system that requires maintenance. See Spaceship Earth.