Earth, also known as "the Earth" and "the World", is the third planet from the Sun and the densest planet in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets. It is sometimes referred to as the "Blue Planet", the "Blue Marble", Terra or "Gaia".
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.Back at Top
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.
The other terrestrial planets probably have similar structures and compositions with some differences: the Moon has at most a small core; Mercury has an extra large core (relative to its diameter); the mantles of Mars and the Moon are much thicker; the Moon and Mercury may not have chemically distinct crusts; Earth may be the only one with distinct inner and outer cores.
The Earth's atmosphere is 77% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, with traces of argon, carbon dioxide and water. There was probably a very much larger amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere when the Earth was first formed, but it has since been almost all incorporated into carbonate rocks and to a lesser extent dissolved into the oceans and consumed by living plants. Plate tectonics and biological processes now maintain a continual flow of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to these various "sinks" and back again. The tiny amount of carbon dioxide resident in the atmosphere at any time is extremely important to the maintenance of the Earth's surface temperature via the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect raises the average surface temperature about 35 degrees C above what it would otherwise be (from a frigid -21 C to a comfortable +14 C); without it the oceans would freeze and life as we know it would be impossible. (Water vapor is also an important greenhouse gas.)Back at Top
Name and etymology
The modern English noun earth developed from Middle English erthe (recorded in 1137), itself from Old English eorthe (dating from before 725), deriving from Proto-Germanic *erthō. Earth has cognates in all other Germanic languages, including Dutch aarde, German Erde, and Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish jord. The Earth is personified as a goddess in Germanic paganism (appearing as Jörð in Norse mythology, mother of the god Thor).
In general English usage, the name earth can be capitalized or spelled in lowercase interchangeably, either when used absolutely or prefixed with "the" (i.e. "Earth", "the Earth", "earth", or "the earth"). Many deliberately spell the name of the planet with a capital, both as "Earth" or "the Earth". This is to distinguish it as a proper noun, distinct from the senses of the term as a mass noun or verb (e.g. referring to soil, the ground, earthing in the electrical sense, etc.). Oxford spelling recognizes the lowercase form as the most common, with the capitalized form as a variant of it. Another common convention is to spell the name with a capital when occurring absolutely (e.g. Earth's atmosphere) and lowercase when preceded by "the" (e.g. the atmosphere of the earth). The term almost exclusively exists in lowercase when appearing in common phrases, even without "the" preceding it (e.g. "It does not cost the earth.", "What on earth are you doing?").Back at Top
Main article: Figure of the Earth
Stratocumulus clouds over the Pacific, viewed from orbit
The shape of the Earth approximates an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator. This bulge results from the rotation of the Earth, and causes the diameter at the equator to be 43 km (kilometer) larger than the pole-to-pole diameter. For this reason the furthest point on the surface from the Earth's center of mass is the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador. The average diameter of the reference spheroid is about 12742 km, which is approximately 40,000 km/π, as the meter was originally defined as 1/10,000,000 of the distance from the equator to the North Pole through Paris, France.
Local topography deviates from this idealized spheroid, although on a global scale, these deviations are small: Earth has a tolerance of about one part in about 584, or 0.17%, from the reference spheroid, which is less than the 0.22% tolerance allowed in billiard balls. The largest local deviations in the rocky surface of the Earth are Mount Everest (8,848 m above local sea level) and the Mariana Trench (10911 m below local sea level). Due to the equatorial bulge, the surface locations farthest from the center of the Earth are the summits of Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador and Huascarán in Peru.Back at Top