March 11, 2016

Comparison of the Earth to the Moon

Comparison of the Earth to the Moon

The Earth

Earth is the third planet from the Sun, the densest planet in the Solar System, the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets, and the only astronomical object known to harbor life.

According to evidence from radiometric dating and other sources, Earth was formed about 4.54 billion years ago. Earth gravitationally interacts with other objects in space, especially the Sun and the Moon. During one orbit around the Sun, Earth rotates about its own axis 366.26 times, creating 365.26 solar days or one sidereal year. 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). The Moon is Earth's only permanent natural satellite. Its gravitational interaction with Earth causes ocean tides, stabilizes the orientation of Earth's rotational axis, and gradually slows Earth's rotational rate.

Earth's lithosphere is divided into several rigid tectonic plates that migrate across the surface over periods of many millions of years. 71% of Earth's surface is covered with water, with the remainder consisting of continents and islands that together have many lakes and other sources of water that contribute to the hydrosphere. Earth's polar regions are mostly covered with 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 magnetic field, and a convecting mantle that drives plate tectonics.

Within its first billion years, life appeared in Earth's oceans and began to affect its atmosphere and surface, promoting the proliferation of aerobic as well as anaerobic organisms. Since then, the combination of Earth's distance from the Sun, its physical properties and its geological history have allowed life to thrive and evolve. The earliest undisputed life on Earth arose at least 3.5 billion years ago. Earlier physical evidence of life includes biogenic graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old metasedimentary rocks discovered in southwestern Greenland, as well as "remains of biotic life" found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia. Earth's biodiversity has expanded continually except when interrupted by mass extinctions. Although scholars estimate that over 99% of all species of life (over five billion) that ever lived on Earth are extinct, there are still an estimated 10–14 million extant species, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86% have not yet been described. Over 7.3 billion humans live on Earth and depend on its biosphere and minerals for their survival. Earth's human population is divided among about two hundred sovereign states which interact through diplomacy, conflict, travel, trade and communication media.

The Moon

The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. It is one of the largest natural satellites in the Solar System, and, among planetary satellites, the largest relative to the size of the planet it orbits (its primary). It is the second-densest satellite among those whose densities are known (after Jupiter's satellite Io).

The Moon is thought to have formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago, not long after Earth. There are several hypotheses for its origin; the most widely accepted explanation is that the Moon formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body called Theia.

The Moon is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face with its near side marked by dark volcanic maria that fill between the bright ancient crustal highlands and the prominent impact craters. It is the second-brightest regularly visible celestial object in Earth's sky after the Sun, as measured by illuminance on Earth's surface. Although it can appear a very bright white, its surface is actually dark, with a reflectance just slightly higher than that of worn asphalt. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have, since ancient times, made the Moon an important cultural influence on language, calendars, art, and mythology.

The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides, body tides, and the slight lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance is about thirty times the diameter of Earth, causing it to have an apparent size in the sky almost the same as that of the Sun, with the result that the Moon covers the Sun nearly precisely in total solar eclipse. This matching of apparent visual size will not continue in the far future. The Moon's linear distance from Earth is currently increasing at a rate of 3.82 ± 0.07 centimetres (1.504 ± 0.028 in) per year, but this rate is not constant.

The Soviet Union's Luna programme was the first to reach the Moon with unmanned spacecraft in 1959; the United States' NASA Apollo program achieved the only manned missions to date, beginning with the first manned lunar orbiting mission by Apollo 8 in 1968, and six manned lunar landings between 1969 and 1972, with the first being Apollo 11. These missions returned over 380 kg (840 lb) of lunar rocks, which have been used to develop a geological understanding of the Moon's origin, the formation of its internal structure, and its subsequent history. After the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the Moon has been visited only by unmanned spacecraft.

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