COSI Blog
22
April
2013

Know Your Mother

Some Incredible Earth Facts to Celebrate on Earth Day

Gorgeous view of Pacific Ocean.

1) The Earth isn't round!

Actually, (like a lot of us) the Earth is a bit plump about the middle. Why? Because it's spinning so fast! The Earth's rotation creates stress on the rocks and the oceans, causing the planet to bulge around the equator. In fact, because the Southern Hemisphere is mostly ocean and because water is easier to move than land, the Earth is a little bit pear-shaped!

2) The tallest mountain is . . . well . . .

You probably said Mount Everest right away. It's true that Everest is the point on Earth farthest from sea level. However, there are at least two challengers to Everest's claim. If you measure base to peak, then Mauna Kea in the Hawaiian Islands is actually about four thousand feet taller than Everest. Of course, Mauna Kea begins on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and doesn't even break sea level until it's already almost 20,000 feet high. But if you put the two side by side, Mauna Kea would actually be larger.

Maybe a better challenge, though, comes from Mt. Chimborazo in Peru. This mountain is shorter than Everest by almost 10,000 feet, but because it is on the Earth's equatorial bulge (see #1 above), the top of Mt. Chimborazo is actually over six thousand feet further from the Earth's center than the top of Everest. So if you start measuring from the center of the Earth, you'd find that the farthest point that is still on land isn't Everest, it's the top of Mt. Chimborazo.

3) The oceans are really . . .

How deep are the oceans? Try this: get an ordinary piece of 8 ½ by 11 paper. Draw a map of the Pacific Ocean on the paper. Put Japan on the left side and California on the right. Now imagine the water in between. In order to create a scale model of the Pacific Ocean, how far below the paper would the water have to dip? Five inches? Ten? In fact, on this scale the depth of the Pacific Ocean is the thickness of the paper itself!

When considered this way, the ocean waters (which are "only" a few miles deep in most places) barely cover the ocean floor, almost like puddles on a sidewalk after the rain. Our planet's oceans are much, much wider than they are deep.

4) The Earth is fast!

The fastest humans ever were the astronauts on the Apollo missions. They traveled at speeds of up to 24,791 mph on the way back from the Moon. But that speed is in relation to the Earth, and we know the Earth itself is always moving around the Sun. How fast is the Earth's motion? Get ready – over 66,000 mph! So in that sense every one of us, every second of every day, is moving faster than the fastest of the Apollo astronauts. Don't even get me started on how fast the Sun is moving around the center of the galaxy, or how fast the galaxy . . . well, you get the point. We're moving fast!

5) Everything is recycled

While we occasionally receive visitors from space, most of the Earth's matter has been here for a very, very long time. In fact, in your body right now are molecules of water that once passed through the bladder of Aristotle, Joan of Arc, and even Fabio! Water (like many other materials) circulates around and around our planet, finding new uses again and again. This is because atoms (which make up everything) are very small. In fact, there are far more atoms in a single glass of water than there are glasses of water in all the oceans of the world. The Earth itself is the original recycler!

6) Speaking of atoms in water

Did you know that the oceans of the world contain around 20 million tons of gold? Of course, no one knows how to extract all that gold from seawater in a way that makes doing so worthwhile. The gold in the ocean is so dilute that only about one part in a trillion (that's 1/ 1,000,000,000,000th) of seawater is gold. For now, the gold will stay there. But just imagine . . .

7) People are amazing

Of all the incredible facts about our planet, the most amazing is probably this: our planet is home to a creature that can know and understand the world, and can use that understanding to make a difference. As far as we know, Earth is the only planet where matter has come to life, and has grown up to understand its world and itself. We are the eyes, ears, and consciousness of the Earth, and that's pretty spectacular. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

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