Humans still haven’t discovered a planet that compares to the beautiful, blue marble we call home. And yet, cozy buildings and WIFI connections have kept us disconnected from nature, making it easy to forget just how freaky our world really is. Take a moment to get in touch with your inner Earthling — and change the way you see home — by considering these world-altering facts about our 4.54 billion-year-old planet.
When we picture the Earth orbiting the sun, we often think of the model we’ve seen in elementary school: a stationary star with various planets orbiting around in neat circles. But we forget that the sun itself is also moving, making our solar system more like a collection of spinning asteroids shooting through space at a whopping 67,000 miles per hour. Don’t worry — it’s nearly impossible for us to collide with another system. At least not for another few billion years…
As the Earth spins around the sun, it also spins on its axis at 1,000 miles per hour. That’s about double the speed of a commercial airplane! If we stopped spinning, earthquakes and tsunamis would rock the planet, then the sun would bake Earth on one side while the other side froze over. Even if we managed to start spinning again, the atmosphere would continue to rotate. Feeling dizzy yet?
Sorry, but it’s not flat, either. The Earth is actually closer to a sphere, if that sphere were flattened and stretched out at the equator. Why the bulge around the middle? It comes from the gravity produced by the planet’s rotation around the sun. The shape of Earth is referred to as an “oblate spheroid.”
The north and south poles of Earth align with the planet’s magnetic field, which reaches thousands of miles into space. This “magnetosphere” is believed to exist due to the Earth’s molten outer core, which produces enough electricity to magnetize solar winds to the Earth’s surface. Thankfully, these winds protect us from the sun’s radiation. Without this built-in planetary sunblock, scientists believe we’d look a lot more like Mars, barren and torn apart by UV exposure.
The Earth actually takes 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds to rotate completely, which is called a “Sidereal Day.” This time is then factored into a “Solar Day,” which varies based on the sun’s location in space. All together, you end up with 24 hours. Sound complicated? Don’t worry — daylight savings is even more confusing.
Technically, a year is about 365.25 days long, and we compensate for this is by adding a leap year to the calendar on every fourth rotation. Scientists have found that Earth years are actually getting longer over time, thanks to our slowing rotation. But don’t panic — we’re only talking 1.8 milliseconds longer every 100 years.
Our sidekick in this planetary voyage seems like quite the loner, but it turns out, even the moon has a posse. Two asteroids are also locked into Earth’s orbit, though their journey is a bit more complicated. The objects, called “3753 Cruithne” and “2002 AA29,” follow their own path, but dip into the Earth’s orbit every 95 years or so. These astroids keep the moon’s gravitational pull in balance
It’s happened before and it could happen again. No, we’re not talking about the entire planet flipping upside down. We’re talking about Earth’s magnetic poles, which operate independently from the actual planet, swapping places. This reversal, which last occurred 780,000 years ago, could disrupt our magnetic field and weaken our protection from the sun. Not only could this cause damage to life on Earth, it could also short circuit entire electrical grids. All the more reason to save your documents to a hard drive.
You can’t go moonwalking in Canada, but you can measure different gravitational pulls on different parts of the planet. Remember how the Earth bulges at the center and flattens at the poles? This variation causes the “smaller” parts of the Earth to have less gravity than the larger ones. Mount Nevado Huascarán in Peru has the planet’s lowest gravitational pull while the surface of the Arctic Ocean has the highest.
According to popular myth, if you shrunk the Earth down to fit in the palm of your hand, it would be even smoother than a billiard ball. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated this disproven fact. While the planet would feel shockingly polished at that small size, in reality, the Earth’s lowest and highest points, Mount Everest and the Dead Sea Depression, would still be detectable. That’s still pretty darn smooth!
We tend to forget just how much debris is circling our little blue planet. Over 21,000 pieces of junk are traveling around us at up to 18,000 miles per hour. This includes satellites, pieces of space crafts, failed rockets, erosion debris — the list keeps growing. The more junk, the more chance of collision, which would cause even more space junk. Who knows — professional space junk removal might just be a job of the future.
That’s right — the sun was within us the whole time. Now, we’re only talking about the sun’s surface here, which is significantly cooler than the sun’s internal temperature. Earth’s core is about 11,000 ºF while the sun’s surface is about 10,000 ºF. This sounds scorching until you realize that the sun’s core is 27 million ºF — over 2,700x hotter!
Bits of cosmic dust are constantly being sucked into our gravitational pull, including old comet tails, tiny space rocks, and water molecules. You would think these microscopic collisions would cause Earth’s mass to increase over time. However, 120,000 pounds is nothing compared to the Earth’s weight, which is 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds — that’s thirteen septillion!
What we do know is that Earth comes from the Germanic word for “ground,” which is erde (also called “eor(th)e” in Old English). Unlike all the other planets in our solar system, the Earth wasn’t named after a Greek or Roman god or goddess. This is likely because the Earth was not considered to be a planet until long after the other planets were discovered.
While some ozone holes have successfully healed themselves, the first-ever ozone hole, discovered above the South Pole in 1985, has yet to make a full recovery. While it heals, other holes continue to pop up in our atmosphere, including one above Antartica said to be 3 times larger than the United States! Thankfully, the ozone is expected to return to normal by 2050 if the world can continue to comply with damage regulations.
Viruses are the true rulers of the planet. After all, they have the power to completely shut down human life as we know it. And that’s just one strain! There are currently 10,000 more viruses than people on Earth, and 10 million times more viruses than stars in the universe! That’s right — the entire universe. Makes you want to wash your hands more often, doesn’t it?
Earthquakes are measured using the Richter Scale, which examines seismographic activity. Currently, the largest recorded earthquake is the Chile earthquake of 1960 with a magnitude 8.6 and a moment magnitude of 9.5. An earthquake larger than magnitude 10 would be impossible, as it would require a fault line longer than the Earth itself! An event like that would literally break the planet apart.
Greenhouse gas emissions are causing sea levels to rise at an alarming rate. By 2100, the oceans could reach up to 8.2 feet above the recorded sea levels of 2000. This would cause coastal cities to flood, destroying buildings and threatening millions of lives. Technically, the process could be reversed by removing carbon dioxide from the environment and reflecting away solar radiation.
Human existence is but a blink of the eye compared to the Earth’s lifetime. Our planet was formed 4.543 billion years ago along with the other celestial bodies in our solar system. About 65 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the planet, dominating for 165 million years. In comparison, humans have only existed for 200,000 years. That’s less than 2% of the time dinosaurs roamed free! Do you think we’ll make it as long as they did?
Lurking throughout the planet are seven supervolcanoes, threatening to alter life as we know it. Yellowstone, which is visited by millions of people a year, could literally wipe us out completely. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, and the volcano has averaged about 725,000 years in between eruptions. But between global warming, fracking, pollution, and other manmade factors, the chance of an eruption happening sooner is much higher.
Death Valley has its own racetrack, but it may not be exactly what you think. People still aren’t exactly sure what makes the boulders of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley move around, leaving tracks behind them.
There can be lots of dangerous things lurking in the waters of Africa like hippos and crocodiles, but the water itself can also be deadly. In 1984, magma beneath the surface of Lake Monoun caused it to emit a burst of carbon dioxide.
You would think that by now we’d have discovered everything there is to see on this planet, but new forms of microbial life are being discovered 400 feet below the seafloor.
This one may not come as a surprise. Earth is called the “Blue Marble” for a reason after all. If you take a deeper dive though, you’ll find a few unexpected surprises with Earth’s water supply.
Of all the water on the planet, nearly all of it — 97% in fact — is salt water. So that leaves us with only 3% of fresh water right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Of that remaining 3% of freshwater, only a whopping 1% can be found in lakes and rivers. The other two percent is actually contained in glaciers and icebergs in the arctic.
This famous route was one of the first highways ever created in 1926, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that, at 2,448 miles, it’s actually longer than the distance between Earth’s mantle and core.
Unlike other plants, mosses have developed a special trick. Using special hairs in their leaves, moss can suck the moisture straight from the air, letting them survive in even the driest deserts.
According to planetary scientists, the Earth can generate heat on its own through the decay of radioactive elements in its core, and can redirect the sun’s rays to warm up colder areas on its surface.
Don’t go trying to cancel your monthly heating bill just yet, though. While the Earth can redistribute the Sun’s heat, it’s only about 1% efficient at doing the job.
While you may think that cloudy skies just bring rain, they also help cool things off. The amount of water in clouds is relatively tiny, but they can cool the Earth by almost 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s called the Darvaza crater, but locals have a different name for it: “The Gates of Hell” or “The Door to Hell.” Given the apocalyptic scene, whoever nicknamed the crater didn’t have to push their imagination too hard.
Craziest of all, this massive inferno has been burning for decades with no sign of slowing down. Hundreds of tourists flock to the pits each year, vying to catch a glimpse. Nearly all of them have the same question: how the heck did this happen?
Well, the story behind the mysterious inferno is almost as incredible as the sight of the flames themselves. Inquiring tourists are taken back to 1971, when the republic was still a part of the Soviet Union. Geologists had a plan.
A group of Soviet geologists ventured into the desert to locate potentially profitable oil fields. They came across an area that they thought might be rich in oil, and they started drilling immediately. But there was a problem.
It didn’t take long for them to realize there was no oil. They were instead drilling on top of a massive reservoir of natural gas. Even worse, the area couldn’t support the weight of their heavy equipment and began crumbling beneath them.
Soon, the Earth opened up and swallowed all their equipment, leaving a cavernous hole in the middle of the desert. In the chaos, other pits opened up nearby and completely changed the terrain of the desert forever — and this wasn’t even the most shocking consequence.
While no one was injured in the event, there was, however, a problem. The huge craters were leaking natural gas at an unbelievable rate. Methane was billowing into the area around the craters and robbing the desert of oxygen.
In the weeks after the collapse, animals in the area dropped dead because of the lack of oxygen. Because the desert was not home to a dense animal population, losing even a few was making a huge impact. Meanwhile, gas kept streaming into the sky.
Desperate, the group of scientists came up with an alarmingly simple — and very extreme — idea to combat the leak. Suffocating any fears of an explosion, they decided to set the crater on fire in hopes that it would burn itself out.
But skeptics of the plan pointed out that adding fire to a gas leak would have catastrophic consequences. The experts retorted that when it comes to oil or natural gas drilling operations across the world, “flaring” isn’t unheard of.
Flaring consists of burning excess natural gas that cannot be processed immediately so it can be eliminated safely. In North Dakota, over a million dollars of natural gas is burned each day. So, why wouldn’t this work for our Soviet scientists?
The government assumed the fire would last a few weeks, but they had no idea exactly how much natural gas they were dealing with. When they lit the flame 50 years ago, nobody suspected it would still be burning.