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|Introduction: Size, Orbit, etc.||How Fast is Earth Moving?||Continental Drift||Oceans||The Atmosphere||Clouds||Magnetosphere||Moon|
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Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) was a Greek scholar who was the first person to determine the circumference of the Earth. He compared the midsummer's noon shadow in deep wells in Syene (now Aswan on the Nile in Egypt) and Alexandria. He properly assumed that the Sun's rays are virtually parallel (since the Sun is so far away). Knowing the distance between the two locations, he calculated the circumference of the Earth to be 250,000 stadia. Exactly how long a stadia is is unknown, so his accuracy is uncertain, but he was very close. He also accurately measured the tilt of the Earth's axis and the distance to the sun and moon.
The Earth and the moon. Photo taken by NASA's Galileo mission in 1990.
The moon may have once been a part of the Earth; it may have been broken off the Earth during a catastrophic collision of a huge body with the Earth billions of years ago.
MASS, DENSITY, AND ESCAPE VELOCITY
The Earth's mass is about 5.98 x 1024 kg.
The Earth has an average density of 5520 kg/m3 (water has a density of 1027 kg/m3). Earth is the densest planet in our Solar System.
To escape the Earth's gravitational pull, an object must reach a velocity of 24,840 miles per hour (11,180 m/sec).
LENGTH OF A DAY AND YEAR ON EARTH
Earth rising over the moon. Photo taken by NASA's Apollo 8 mission.
Planet-Sun Orbital Diagram
Label the aphelion (farthest point in orbit) and perihelion (closest point in orbit) of a planet in orbit.
On average, the Earth orbits 93 million miles (149,600,000 km) from the Sun. This distance is defined as one Astronomical Unit (AU). The Earth is closest to the Sun (this is called perihelion) around January 2 each year (91.4 million miles = 147.1 million km); it is farthest away from the Sun (this is called aphelion) around July 2 each year (94.8 million miles = 152.6 million km).
The Earth has an orbit that is close to being circular; its orbital eccentricity is 0.017. (Eccentricity is a measure of how an orbit deviates from circular. A perfectly circular orbit has an eccentricity of zero; an eccentricity between 0 and 1 represents an elliptical orbit.)
THE EARTH'S AXIS TILT AND THE SEASONS
The Earth's axis is tilted from perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic by 23.45°. This tilting is what gives us the four seasons of the year: Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn. Since the axis is tilted, different parts of the globe are oriented towards the Sun at different times of the year. This affects the amount of sunlight each receives. For more information on the seasons, click here.
At the equator, the Earth's surface moves 40,000 kilometers in 24 hours. That is a speed of about 1040 miles/hr (1670 km/hr). This is calculated by dividing the circumference of the Earth at the equator (about 24,900 miles or 40,070 km) by the number of hours in a day (24). As you move toward either pole, this speed decreases to almost zero (since the circumference at the extreme latitudes approaches zero).
The Earth revolves around the Sun at a speed of about 30 km/sec. This compares with the Earth's rotational speed of approximately 0.5 km/sec (at middle latitudes - near the equator).
For more information on the speed of the Earth, click here.
The size of the atmosphere in this illustration is greatly exaggerated in order to show the greenhouse effect. The Earth's atmosphere is about 300 miles (480 km) thick, but most of the Earth's atmosphere is within 10 miles (16 km) of the Earth's surface.
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