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Earth (or the Earth) is the third planet from the Sun and 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, the Blue Planet,[20] or by its Latin name, Terra.[note 6]
Home to millions of species including humans, Earth is currently the only astronomical body where life is known to exist.[21] The planet formed 4.54 billion years ago, and life appeared on its surface within one billion years.[22] Earth's biosphere has significantly altered the atmosphere and other abiotic conditions on the planet, enabling the proliferation of aerobic organisms as well as the formation of the ozone layer which, together with Earth's magnetic field, blocks harmful solar radiation, permitting life on land.[23] The physical properties of the Earth, as well as its geological history and orbit, have allowed life to persist during this period. The planet is expected to continue supporting life for at least another 500 million years.[24][25]
Earth's outer surface 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 with salt water oceans, the remainder consisting of continents and islands which together have many lakes and other sources of water contributing to the hydrosphere. Liquid water, necessary for all known life, is not known to exist in equilibrium on any other planet's surface.[note 7] Earth's poles are mostly covered with solid ice (Antarctic ice sheet) or sea ice (Arctic ice cap). The planet's interior remains active, with a thick layer of relatively solid mantle, a liquid outer core that generates a magnetic field, and a solid iron inner core.
Earth interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. At present, Earth orbits the Sun once every 366.26 times it rotates about its own axis, which is equal to 365.26 solar days, or one sidereal year.[note 8] 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).[26] Earth's only known natural satellite, the Moon, which began orbiting it about 4.53 billion years ago, provides ocean tides, stabilizes the axial tilt and gradually slows the planet's rotation. Between approximately 3.8 billion and 4.1 billion years ago, numerous asteroid impacts during the Late Heavy Bombardment caused significant changes to the greater surface environment.
Both the mineral resources of the planet, as well as 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 personification as a deity, a belief in a flat Earth or in the Earth as the center of the universe, and a modern perspective of the world as an integrated environment that requires stewardship.

Scientists have been able to reconstruct detailed information about the planet's past. The earliest dated Solar System material was formed 4.5672 ± 0.0006 billion years ago,[27] and by 4.54 billion years ago (within an uncertainty of 1%)[22] the Earth and the other planets in the Solar System had formed out of the solar nebula—a disk-shaped mass of dust and gas left over from the formation of the Sun. This assembly of the Earth through accretion was thus largely completed within 10–20 million years.[28] Initially molten, the outer layer of the planet Earth cooled to form a solid crust when water began accumulating in the atmosphere. The Moon formed shortly thereafter, 4.53 billion years ago.[29]
The current consensus model[30] for the formation of the Moon is the giant impact hypothesis, in which the Moon was created when a Mars-sized object (sometimes called Theia) with about 10% of the Earth's mass[31] impacted the Earth in a glancing blow.[32] In this model, some of this object's mass would have merged with the Earth and a portion would have been ejected into space, but enough material would have been sent into orbit to coalesce into the Moon.
Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere of the Earth. Condensing water vapor, augmented by ice and liquid water delivered by asteroids and the larger proto-planets, comets, and trans-Neptunian objects produced the oceans.[33] The newly formed Sun was only 70% of its present luminosity, yet evidence shows that the early oceans remained liquid—a contradiction dubbed the faint young Sun paradox. A combination of greenhouse gases and higher levels of solar activity served to raise the Earth's surface temperature, preventing the oceans from freezing over.[34] By 3.5 billion years ago, the Earth's magnetic field was established, which helped prevent the atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind.[35]
Two major models have been proposed for the rate of continental growth:[36] steady growth to the present-day[37] and rapid growth early in Earth history.[38] Current research shows that the second option is most likely, with rapid initial growth of continental crust[39] followed by a long-term steady continental area.[40][41][42] On time scales lasting hundreds of millions of years, the surface continually reshaped as continents formed and broke up. The continents migrated across the surface, occasionally combining to form a supercontinent. Roughly 750 million years ago (Ma), one of the earliest known supercontinents, Rodinia, began to break apart. The continents later recombined to form Pannotia, 600–540 Ma, then finally Pangaea, which broke apart 180 Ma.[43]

At present, Earth provides the only example of an environment that has given rise to the evolution of life.[44] Highly energetic chemistry is believed to have produced a self-replicating molecule around 4 billion years ago and half a billion years later the last common ancestor of all life existed.[45] The development of photosynthesis allowed the Sun's energy to be harvested directly by life forms; the resultant oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere and formed a layer of ozone (a form of molecular oxygen [O3]) in the upper atmosphere. The incorporation of smaller cells within larger ones resulted in the development of complex cells called eukaryotes.[46] True multicellular organisms formed as cells within colonies became increasingly specialized. Aided by the absorption of harmful ultraviolet radiation by the ozone layer, life colonized the surface of Earth.[47]
Since the 1960s, it has been hypothesized that severe glacial action between 750 and 580 Ma, during the Neoproterozoic, covered much of the planet in a sheet of ice. This hypothesis has been termed "Snowball Earth", and is of particular interest because it preceded the Cambrian explosion, when multicellular life forms began to proliferate.[48]
Following the Cambrian explosion, about 535 Ma, there have been five major mass extinctions.[49] The most recent such event was 65 Ma, when an asteroid impact triggered the extinction of the (non-avian) dinosaurs and other large reptiles, but spared some small animals such as mammals, which then resembled shrews. Over the past 65 million years, mammalian life has diversified, and several million years ago an African ape-like animal such as Orrorin tugenensis gained the ability to stand upright.[50] This enabled tool use and encouraged communication that provided the nutrition and stimulation needed for a larger brain, which allowed the evolution of the human race. The development of agriculture, and then civilization, allowed humans to influence the Earth in a short time span as no other life form had,[51] affecting both the nature and quantity of other life forms.
The present pattern of ice ages began about 40 Ma and then intensified during the Pleistocene about 3 Ma. High-latitude regions have since undergone repeated cycles of glaciation and thaw, repeating every 40–100,000 years. The last continental glaciation ended 10,000 years ago.[52]

The future of the planet is closely tied to that of the Sun. As a result of the steady accumulation of helium at the Sun's core, the star's total luminosity will slowly increase. The luminosity of the Sun will grow by 10% over the next 1.1 Gyr (1.1 billion years) and by 40% over the next 3.5 Gyr.[53] Climate models indicate that the rise in radiation reaching the Earth is likely to have dire consequences, including the loss of the planet's oceans.[54]
The Earth's increasing surface temperature will accelerate the inorganic CO2 cycle, reducing its concentration to levels lethally low for plants (10 ppm for C4 photosynthesis) in approximately 500 million[24] to 900 million years. The lack of vegetation will result in the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere, so animal life will become extinct within several million more years.[55] After another billion years all surface water will have disappeared[25] and the mean global temperature will reach 70 °C[55] (158 °F). The Earth is expected to be effectively habitable for about another 500 million years from that point,[24] although this may be extended up to 2.3 billion years if the nitrogen is removed from the atmosphere.[56] Even if the Sun were eternal and stable, the continued internal cooling of the Earth would result in a loss of much of its CO2 due to reduced volcanism,[57] and 35% of the water in the oceans would descend to the mantle due to reduced steam venting from mid-ocean ridges.[58]
The Sun, as part of its evolution, will become a red giant in about 5 Gyr. Models predict that the Sun will expand out to about 250 times its present radius, roughly 1 AU (150,000,000 km).[53][59] Earth's fate is less clear. As a red giant, the Sun will lose roughly 30% of its mass, so, without tidal effects, the Earth will move to an orbit 1.7 AU (250,000,000 km) from the Sun when the star reaches it maximum radius. The planet was therefore initially expected to escape envelopment by the expanded Sun's sparse outer atmosphere, though most, if not all, remaining life would have been destroyed by the Sun's increased luminosity (peaking at about 5000 times its present level).[53] However, a 2008 simulation indicates that Earth's orbit will decay due to tidal effects and drag, causing it to enter the red giant Sun's atmosphere and be vaporized.[59]

The mechanically rigid outer layer of the Earth, the lithosphere, is broken into pieces called tectonic plates. These plates are rigid segments that move in relation to one another at one of three types of plate boundaries: Convergent boundaries, at which two plates come together, Divergent boundaries, at which two plates are pulled apart, and Transform boundaries, in which two plates slide past one another laterally. Earthquakes, volcanic activity, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation can occur along these plate boundaries.[85] The tectonic plates ride on top of the asthenosphere, the solid but less-viscous part of the upper mantle that can flow and move along with the plates,[86] and their motion is strongly coupled with convection patterns inside the Earth's mantle.
As the tectonic plates migrate across the planet, the ocean floor is subducted under the leading edges of the plates at convergent boundaries. At the same time, the upwelling of mantle material at divergent boundaries creates mid-ocean ridges. The combination of these processes continually recycles the oceanic crust back into the mantle. Because of this recycling, most of the ocean floor is less than 100 million years in age. The oldest oceanic crust is located in the Western Pacific, and has an estimated age of about 200 million years.[87][88] By comparison, the oldest dated continental crust is 4030 million years old.[89]
Other notable plates include the Indian Plate, the Arabian Plate, the Caribbean Plate, the Nazca Plate off the west coast of South America and the Scotia Plate in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Australian Plate fused with the Indian Plate between 50 and 55 million years ago. The fastest-moving plates are the oceanic plates, with the Cocos Plate advancing at a rate of 75 mm/yr[90] and the Pacific Plate moving 52–69 mm/yr. At the other extreme, the slowest-moving plate is the Eurasian Plate, progressing at a typical rate of about 21 mm/yr.[91]

The Earth's atmosphere has no definite boundary, slowly becoming thinner and fading into outer space. Three-quarters of the atmosphere's mass is contained within the first 11 km of the planet's surface. This lowest layer is called the troposphere. Energy from the Sun heats this layer, and the surface below, causing expansion of the air. This lower density air then rises, and is replaced by cooler, higher density air. The result is atmospheric circulation that drives the weather and climate through redistribution of heat energy.[110]
The primary atmospheric circulation bands consist of the trade winds in the equatorial region below 30° latitude and the westerlies in the mid-latitudes between 30° and 60°.[111] Ocean currents are also important factors in determining climate, particularly the thermohaline circulation that distributes heat energy from the equatorial oceans to the polar regions.[112]
Water vapor generated through surface evaporation is transported by circulatory patterns in the atmosphere. When atmospheric conditions permit an uplift of warm, humid air, this water condenses and settles to the surface as precipitation.[110] Most of the water is then transported to lower elevations by river systems and usually returned to the oceans or deposited into lakes. This water cycle is a vital mechanism for supporting life on land, and is a primary factor in the erosion of surface features over geological periods. Precipitation patterns vary widely, ranging from several meters of water per year to less than a millimeter. Atmospheric circulation, topological features and temperature differences determine the average precipitation that falls in each region.[113]
The amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's decreases with increasing latitude. At higher latitudes the sunlight reaches the surface at a lower angles and it must pass through thicker columns of the atmosphere. As a result, the mean annual air temperature at sea level decreases by about 0.4°C per per degree of latitude away from the equator.[114] The Earth can be sub-divided into specific latitudinal belts of approximately homogeneous climate. Ranging from the equator to the polar regions, these are the tropical (or equatorial), subtropical, temperate and polar climates.[115] Climate can also be classified based on the temperature and precipitation, with the climate regions characterized by fairly uniform air masses. The commonly used Köppen climate classification system (as modified by Wladimir Köppen's student Rudolph Geiger) has five broad groups (humid tropics, arid, humid middle latitudes, continental and cold polar), which are further divided into more specific subtypes.[111]

Cartography, the study and practice of map making, and vicariously geography, have historically been the disciplines devoted to depicting the Earth. Surveying, the determination of ********s and distances, and to a lesser extent navigation, the determination of position and direction, have developed alongside cartography and geography, providing and suitably quantifying the requisite information.
Earth has approximately 6,910,000,000 human inhabitants as of April 25, 2011.[155] Projections indicate that the world's human population will reach 7 billion in early 2012 and 9.2 billion in 2050.[156] Most of the growth is expected to take place in developing nations. Human population density varies widely around the world, but a majority live in Asia. By 2020, 60% of the world's population is expected to be living in urban, rather than rural, areas.[157]
It is estimated that only one-eighth of the surface of the Earth is suitable for humans to live on—three-quarters is covered by oceans, and half of the land area is either desert (14%),[158] high mountains (27%),[159] or other less suitable terrain. The northernmost permanent settlement in the world is *****, on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada.[160] (82°28′N) The southernmost is the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, in Antarctica, almost exactly at the South Pole. (90°S)
The Earth at night, a composite of DMSP/OLS ground illumination data on a simulated night-time image of the world. This image is not photographic and many features are brighter than they would appear to a direct observer.

Independent sovereign nations claim the planet's entire land surface, except for some parts of Antarctica and the odd unclaimed area of Bir Tawil between Egypt and Sudan. As of 2011 there are 203 sovereign states, including the 192 United Nations member states. In addition, there are 59 dependent territories, and a number of autonomous areas, territories under dispute and other entities.[13] Historically, Earth has never had a sovereign government with authority over the entire globe, although a number of nation-states have striven for world domination and failed.[161]
The United Nations is a worldwide intergovernmental organization that was created with the goal of intervening in the disputes between nations, thereby avoiding armed conflict.[162] It is not, however, a world government. The U.N. serves primarily as a forum for international diplomacy and international law. When the consensus of the membership permits, it provides a mechanism for armed intervention.[163]
The first human to orbit the Earth was Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961.[164] In total, about 400 people visited outer space and reached Earth orbit as of 2004, and, of these, twelve have walked on the Moon.[165][166][167] Normally the only humans in space are those on the International Space Station. The station's crew, currently six people, is usually replaced every six months.[168] The furthest humans have travelled from Earth is 400,171 km, achieved during the 1970 Apollo 13 mission.[169]