Earth: Celebrating the most beautiful planet in any Solar System

The beauty, history and science of the remarkable planet that we call home. Photo: Earth Rise. Image credit: NASA/Apollo 8 crew

UNITED KINGDOM, UNITED KINGDOM, September 26, 2013 — As an astronomer I am often asked which is my favorite planet. Saturn may look spectacular through a telescope, but I wouldn’t want to live there. There really is no place like home. I’ll take Earth, with all its diversity, the good and the bad, over anywhere else in the cosmos.

The image above is the first photograph of Earth taken from deep space. Captured on Christmas Eve in 1968, by the crew of Apollo 8, it shows the Earth rising above the Moon’s limb from lunar orbit. This iconic image captured the isolation, beauty and fragility of our world, floating like a soap bubble in the vastness of empty space.

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22 years later in 1990, at the request of Carl Sagan, Voyager 1, having completed it’s 12 year tour of our Solar System, would turn it’s cameras back to take one last photograph of Earth from about 6 billion kilometers away. That image would become the famous Pale Blue Dot

Dr Carolyn Porco was part of the team that planned, designed and executed that original Pale Blue Dot image. She now leads the imaging science team on the Cassini mission. On July 19th this year, she arranged for a similar picture to be taken from Saturn, only this time we would know it was going to happen. So was born The Day The Earth Smiled. Everyone was encouraged to go out, look toward Saturn and smile for the camera, in a global celebration of humans’ place in the universe, and of life on Earth at the moment the picture was taken.

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Here is a simple video giving Earth’s vital statistics,the facts and figures of our planet.

Ours however, is a dynamic world, ever changing, albeit very slowly. Plate tectonics, driven by energy from Earth’s hot interior, have moved the continents over time. This video shows how today’s continents are thought to have evolved over the last 600 million years, and where they’ll end up in the next 100 million years.

In 2011 the population of the Earth topped 7 billion. This number is expected to grow to 9 billion people over the next 50 years. In their video 7 Billion,National Geographic Magazine crunch the numbers.

There are a billion people in the world today who do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, according to the United Nations. 13 percent of the people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. Hans Rosling is professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. His always entertaining presentations are based on solid statistics often drawn from United Nations data. Here he discusses global population growth, box by box

Home is a powerful film by French photographer, journalist and reporter Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Through his spectacular aerial photography he shows the beauty of our planet and our effect upon it.

Earth is the only planet we know of (so far) on which life not only survives, but thrives, in spectacular diversity. We find life even in what we once considered barren, inhospitable environments. From sub-glacial lakes deep under the Antarctic, to the acidic, superheated water gushing from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, at temperatures as high as 464 °C and pressures of more than 300 atmospheres. From organisms that can survive the dry, desiccating conditions found in the Atacama Desert to ones that can endure radiation levels thousands of times higher than the lethal dose for a human. Life seems to be everywhere we look.

Our curiosity and intelligence drives us ever onwards. We have detected over 980 extrasolar planets, orbiting stars other than our Sun, since the first was discovered in 1992. I have little doubt that before too long, as technology and detection methods advance, we will manage to detect signs of life on one of them, but until then this Earth is all we have. “Earth is where we make our stand.”

We live in the best of all possible worlds, at one of the most exciting times in our history. There is no planet, richer, more varied, more beautiful or more precious and no place I would rather be than right here, right now. It is a Wonderful World.


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Jenny Winder

Jenny Winder is a British science writer for SEN - the Space Exploration Network,  specialising in astronomy, physics and space exploration.

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