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WHAT MAKES THE EARTH A LIVING PLANET?

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WHAT MAKES THE EARTH A LIVING PLANET?

WHAT MAKES THE EARTH A alternating periods of daylight and darkness, and
the differences in temperatures that these periods
SPECIAL PLACE? cause.
NOTE: Seasons are caused by a combina-
W hy is the earth unique in its
ability to support life? The
answer lies partly in its position in the
tion of the Earth's revolving around the sun,
and the 23½° inclination of its imaginary
solar system. In addition, Earth has axis.
other features, particularly its The rotation of the Earth also causes air
atmosphere and its oceans, that help currents in the atmosphere to follow specific
keep the temperature stable. patterns. This means that if there was no
rotation the air would simply move back and
EARTH IN THE SOLAR forth between the cold North and South
SYSTEM Poles and the warm equator region. This
The Earth is the only planet in our solar system rotation creates weather and temperature patterns
where temperatures are just right for life. that help support life.
Factors such as the Earth's distance from the
sun, its revolution around the sun, as well as its
EARTH'S UNIQUE TEMPERATURE
rotation on its own axis, all have a role in REGULATORS
maintaining temperatures. Earth has two more important features that help
Distance from the Sun maintain life-giving temperatures. These are the
atmosphere and the oceans.
The Earth lies approximately 150 million
kilometres from the sun. This is just the right The Atmosphere
distance for the provision of life-friendly Huge amounts of the
(sustaining) temperatures. sun's energy reach the
The Orbit Earth. Direct exposure
to this energy would
The path or closed course that the Earth follows be harmful to life, but
when it revolves around the sun is known as its the Earth is protected by the gases that make up
orbit. The Earth's revolution along its orbit the atmosphere. Some of these gases serve to
brings the Earth closer to the sun during certain isolate the earth like a blanket, thus preventing too
times of the year, and takes it further during great a loss of the heat absorbed by the Earth.
other times. It also helps to create the seasons Other gases filter out much of the sun's harmful
that provide cycles of growth and dormancy energy and help keep temperatures stable.
(rest) for many plants and animals. In South
Africa (Southern Hemisphere) we are closer to The composition of the atmosphere is also a very
the sun in January (Summer: 147 million km) important feature of Earth's sustainability.
than in July (Winter: 152 million km). Oxygen is an important atmospheric gas which is
supplied by plants. Most living organisms need
The Earth's rotation on its own axis this oxygen to survive and are able to extract it
Imagine the Earth as a ball with a sharp stick from the air. The atmosphere also contains
stuck through its middle. quantities of nitrogen gas, water vapour, carbon
You could spin this ball dioxide and other gases. All of these gases are
around on the tip of the stick important for life processes and, without
like spinning a top. As the interference by human actions, remain constant
earth orbits around the sun, it (stable). Pollutants caused by people can have
rotates on its own axis. The harmful effects on the atmosphere's protective
imaginary stick represents functions.
the earth's axis. The Earth
rotates on its own axis and The Oceans
from East to West once Earth is often called the Water Planet because
every 24 hours, and this causes and regulates there is so much water on Earth that, from space,
night and day. The half which is turned to the it looks like a blue pearl. The enormous amount
sun has day and the half which is away from the of water on Earth helps prevent huge fluctuations
sun has night. Most forms of life are adapted to in the Earth's temperatures.

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WHAT MAKES THE EARTH A LIVING PLANET?

About 70 percent of the Earth's surface is Without this constant recycling, Spaceship Earth
covered by oceans. These huge oceans take up would soon run out of materials necessary to build
large amounts of living bodies or to provide food for energy and
the sun's energy growth.
and, by doing so,
keep tempera- The Bio-Geo-Chemical Cycles
tures on Earth These recycling processes are called bio-geo-
stable. The chemical cycles, and are driven by the sun's
oceans also play energy. The term bio-geo-chemical is used as a
an important way to explain how the Earth's resources are
role in the weather patterns which in turn are passed from living to non-
important for life processes. living parts of the environment.
For example, these resources
WHERE DOES THE SPACESHIP GET are passed from soil, water or
ITS RESOURCES air, into plants and animals,
and back again.
Spaceship Earth uses enormous amounts of the
chemical elements that build and maintain all Every living creature plays
living bodies. How is it possible that there very important roles in all of
seems to be no end to these resources? The the bio-geo-chemical cycles.
answer lies in re-use and recycling - every Plants, for instance, are an important link in the
single atom on this Earth is being used over and water cycle. They take water from the soil and,
over. This means that each of the millions of through transpiration, return it to the atmosphere
atoms used to build and maintain living bodies in the form of water vapour. Plants are also part
has been used before, and will be used again by of the carbon cycle. They absorb carbon dioxide
other living things. Water, carbon, and nitrogen from the atmosphere and, through photosynthesis,
are a few of the important resources that get use it to form sugars and starches that become
recycled and re-used. food for animals.

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