We’re exploring some of the most interesting facts about Earth that you may not have known before. Whether you’re a science enthusiast or simply someone hungry to learn more about our world, these fascinating facts will spark your interest and deepen your appreciation for planet Earth.
Earth’s Magnetic Field Is Moving
Earth’s magnetic field does a lot for us. It protects us from cosmic radiation and intense particles from the Sun. In simpler terms, it also helps us humans navigate the true North with a compass. As with pretty much everything on our planet, the magnetic field is in constant flux. It’s not drastic enough for us to detect any major, catastrophic changes. However, scientists have noticed that the magnetic field is gradually moving.
Humans first identified the true magnetic North Pole in the 1830s. Scientists have been monitoring it ever since, and they’ve noticed that the point has shifted over 600 miles since its first identification. This movement isn’t anything to be too concerned about. Despite certain theories, the moving magnetic field is not contributing to climate change or anything drastic. It slightly impacts animals that use magnetic fields to navigate, but that’s about it.
The Mystery of Upheaval Dome
The Canyonlands National Park in Utah has stunning rock formations of all shapes and sizes. However, there is one feature within the park that is different than the rest. Upheaval Dome is a rock structure of unknown origin. Unlike its other rock formation counterparts, Upheaval Dome is circular and contains rock layers that are nearly vertical.
Upheaval Dome has fascinated researchers for years because of its unique composition. The most likely origin story is that it's a meteor crash site, which would account for its circular shape and abnormal rock formations. There’s no hard proof for this crater theory, but it seems to be the most likely explanation. If you ever get to explore Utah, Upheaval Dome is worth visiting.
We’re in Constant Motion
Even though we can’t feel it, we constantly move with the Earth’s rotation. We all know this from our elementary school science class. But not everyone knows that how fast you’re moving depends on where you are in the world. People at the equator move the fastest. People standing at the North or South Pole are perfectly still.
Think of Earth’s rotation as a spinning basketball. The ball's top and bottom “poles” don’t move because one side is balanced on the tip of your finger. The widest part of the basketball is the “equator,” or the widest circumference of the ball. That part has the largest rotation axis, making it move the fastest. It’s simple math, but it’s still mind-blowing.
The Deepest Part of the Ocean
Although we haven’t mapped the world’s oceans, we know its deepest point. The deepest known ocean point in the world is in the Mariana Trench. The deepest point of the Mariana Trench reaches 36,200 feet below sea level and is called Challenger Deep. For context, Mount Everest could comfortably fit in the Mariana Trench and still have room to spare.
Incredibly, only two people reached the bottom and were on the same expedition. After Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh spent a mere 20 minutes at the bottom of the ocean back in 1960, no one else has dared to descend. Scientists still know very little about what kind of wildlife lives in those lightless depths, and the mystery is killing us.
The Earth Has a Lot of Gold
Humans have always been obsessed with gold. From Ancient Egyptians to modern-day jewelry lovers, we’ve always been attracted to this warm, malleable substance. As we all know, Earth’s supply of gold is finite, making it a valuable element. Some experts estimate that all the harvested gold in the world could fit in a cube that was only 75 feet. However, there’s more gold on our planet than many people realize.
In fact, there are about 20 million tons of gold on planet Earth. However, there’s a catch. Don’t grab your gold panning gear just yet, because most of this gold is diluted to the point that it's impossible to harvest for human use. Diluted traces of gold mostly exist in the ocean, making it hard to trace and impossible to process.
Lakes Can Explode
In case you were looking for something new to worry about, lakes can explode. Yup, you read that right. Exploding lakes are a rare natural disaster that can have dire consequences. The three exploding lakes that we know of are all located in Africa. These lakes have rare limnic eruptions, where large quantities of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the surrounding atmosphere.
These limnic eruptions, while rare, can happen when volcanic gases beneath the surface of the lake bubble to the top and create enough pressure to cause an explosion. These explosions are no joke. Lake Nyos in Cameroon exploded in 1986, releasing enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to suffocate thousands of humans and animals up to nine miles away.
The World’s Largest Organism
Many people assume that the world’s largest organism is something along the lines of a giant blue whale or ancient tree. In reality, the largest living organism in the world is a humble mushroom called Armillaria solidipes, aka Honey fungus. The fungus lives in the Pacific Northwest and spans over 2,000 acres.
According to the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, this network of mushrooms is about 2,000 years old, and most of the organism is a “large underground network of mycelia.” Each mushroom is a clone of the other, and they’re all connected. On top of that, this organism is still actively growing. So, it probably won’t lose its place as the largest organism any time soon.
Death Valley Is the Hottest Place on Earth
In 1913, an area of Death Valley, California, called Furnace Creek, reached 134.1 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the hottest air temperature ever recorded, making Death Valley the hottest place on Earth. For reference, a medium-rare steak is between 130 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, other parts of our planet have gotten even hotter than Death Valley. The hottest surface temperature ever recorded was in Iran’s Lut Desert, coming in at 177 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature was recorded by satellite imaging software because there’s no way a human could survive in such extreme heat. However, surface temperature accounts for heat absorbed by an object, so it doesn’t accurately reflect the environment’s actual temperature. So, Death Valley still holds the record.
Antarctica Is a Desert
When we think of a desert, we tend to visualize dry, cracked earth and scorching temperatures. But, believe it or not, Antarctica is classified as a desert. The fifth-largest continent on the planet comprises the entire South Pole and is the coldest place on Earth. It’s considered a desert because it sees little to no rain or snow.
In addition, the only plants that can survive in Antarctica are moss and algae. Trees and other plant life simply cannot live in the continent’s inhospitable, freezing conditions. With only about 6.5 inches of rainfall each year, it’s no wonder Antarctica is considered the world’s largest desert.
Clouds Change Earth’s Temperature
Sure, clouds look pretty, but did you know they are instrumental in regulating our planet’s temperature? In addition to storing rain, clouds also cool down the surface of the Earth. Sometimes, clouds can decrease the temperature up to 13 degrees Fahrenheit. The way clouds cool the climate is pretty straightforward. Clouds block heat from the Sun, causing temperatures to fall.
In a surprising twist, clouds can also heat things up on our planet. When clouds are farther away from the surface of the Earth, they can trap heat and make it warmer. Scientists have noticed that when clouds are thick and closer to the Earth’s surface, they tend to have a cooling effect.
The World’s Strongest Earthquake
If you live along a fault line, you’ve undoubtedly grown up hearing about the imminent “megaquake” that will hit at any moment. While many of us are, thankfully, still waiting for that rumored earthquake to hit, there have been some pretty serious quakes on our planet. The most powerful earthquake ever recorded was the 1960 Valdivia earthquake in Chile.
The recorded magnitude of that earthquake was around 9.6, which is the highest measurement ever recorded on the Richter scale. Interestingly, the Richter scale technically doesn’t have an upper limit. However, we will probably never experience an earthquake larger than a magnitude 10. Earth doesn’t have a fault line long enough to produce such an earthquake, and anything larger would literally cause our planet to split in half. So that’s good.
The Great Barrier Reef Really Is Great
We all know that coral reefs are essential hubs of biodiversity for our planet. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia is the most famous coral reef. There’s a lot to admire about this delicate, massive ecosystem, including the fact that it is the world’s largest living structure. Yes, that’s right. Corals are animals, making up most of the Great Barrier Reef’s 133,000 square mile size.
In general, coral reefs hold as many species per unit area as rainforests, if not more. Over 600 types of coral, 215 species of birds, and over 1,000 species of fish are just a few of the living things that call the Great Barrier Reef home. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change and warming oceans have damaged a large portion of this natural wonder. Thankfully, conservation efforts are being made to combat these negative changes.
The Moon on the Move
They say that change is the only constant. This is true even when it comes to space. The Moon has an elliptical orbit around Earth, but it’s slightly changing. Our Moon is slowly but surely drifting away from our planet. Experts estimate it’s moving about 4 centimeters away from Earth annually.
The Moon hasn’t always been on the move in this manner, and scientists have hypothesized about why this is happening. It could be drifting away because of Milankovitch cycles. These cycles are mathematical descriptions of how Earth’s orbit slightly changes, therefore affecting the Moon’s orbit and how many hours of daylight our planet receives. Everything is truly connected.
The Ocean Contains Billions of Microorganisms
We all know that the ocean is vast, but most of us don’t understand just how much of a life force it is. Almost every inch of the ocean is teeming with millions upon billions of microorganisms. In addition, scientists are still discovering new life in the ocean, a mere 400 feet below the surface. A recent volcanic rock sample taken in the South Pacific revealed a staggering 10 billion microbial cells in just a few centimeters.
That scale is mind-boggling and hard to conceptualize for most of us. Just know that the average mud sample taken from the ocean floor usually contains about 100 cells per cubic centimeter. That’s a whole lot of life in a tiny space. So, why should we care? Studying microscopic life can help us understand early life forms. In addition, these bacteria play a huge role in processing greenhouse gas.
Humans Are a Blip on Earth’s Timeline
Buckle up if a few centuries feels like a long time to you. Our planet is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old. That means humans have only lived for a small fraction of Earth’s existence. The oldest known Homo sapiens lived about 300,000 to 450,000 years ago. So, humans as we know it have only existed for 1/10,000 of the age of the planet.
We’re no experts, but a measly .01% sounds like nothing in the grand scheme of things. Other species of hominins have existed as far back as seven million years ago. In comparison, dinosaurs roamed Earth for about 167 million years. That’s not even that long in the grand scheme of things. Those 167 million years only account for 3% of Earth’s history.
You Weigh Less on the Equator
Gravity isn’t the same across the globe. That’s because Earth isn’t a perfect sphere. It’s an irregular ellipsoid. You weigh a little less because you’re farther from the center of Earth’s gravity on the equator. That’s good news to hear if you’re trying to lose weight, but why does this happen?
You weigh less on the equator because when you’re standing along Earth’s “waistline,” you’re about 6,378 kilometers from the center of the Earth. When you’re standing at either the North or South Poles, you’re approximately 6,357 kilometers. Because you’re farther away from the core on the equator, the math does its mathematics, and you end up weighing about 1% less than normal.
The Tibetan Plateau
The Tibetan Plateau is the highest plateau on planet Earth, with an altitude of 16,076 feet. This region, located northwest of the Himalayas, also has the honor of containing the largest amount of fresh water after the North and South Poles. It has so much fresh ice water that It has been dubbed the “third pole.”
The Tibetan Plateau’s water source is unique because, unlike the North and South Poles, its freshwater is easily accessible. The melted, fresh snow water from the plateau goes straight into most of Asia’s largest rivers, including the Yangtze and Salween Rivers. This natural resource is vital to the region’s agriculture and ecosystem.
97% of Earth’s Water Is Undrinkable
The Earth is made of 71% water, so you may wonder why people freak out about the lack of drinking water. Almost 97% of Earth’s water is unfit for human consumption. Most of this planet’s water is salt water from the ocean, making it undrinkable. The stats get a bit more dire from here on out.
All of the fresh water in the world only accounts for about 3% of Earth’s total water. Within that 3%, less than 1% of freshwater comes from lakes, rivers, and other human-accessible sources. The rest of the planet’s freshwater is locked up in frozen icebergs and glaciers. While that statistic will probably change as climate change progresses, it’s still not a whole lot of water.
A Day Isn’t Actually 24 Hours Long
Time is truly wild. We like to think that each day is a perfect 24 hours long. However, that's not always the case because Earth’s orbit around the sun is elliptical. Some days are a few minutes longer, and others are a couple of minutes shorter. So, if you ever feel like time has gone by way too fast, you might not be imagining things.
We have this time discrepancy because we humans tend to measure a day based on the natural cycle of daylight and darkness. We like to think this aligns with a solar day, which is the time it takes for one rotation of Earth on its axis. But that’s not the case. If we actually based our “day” on an axis rotation, a full day would only be 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4 seconds long.
Earth’s Center Is Hot, Hot, Hot
Although no human has ever physically seen our planet’s core, we have many ways to research its composition. Scientists use X-rays, computer models, and a lot of intense math to form hypotheses about Earth’s core and what it's made of. Recent studies have shown that the very center of our planet might be as hot as the surface of the Sun, if not hotter.
Experts say the surface of the Sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit or 5,500 degrees Celsius. With the use of intense X-rays of iron, we now believe Earth’s core is just as hot. Some estimates even go up to 10,832 degrees Fahrenheit, or 6,000 degrees Celsius, making Earth’s core hotter than the Sun’s surface.
Earth Is Radioactive
Earth generates its own heat, making the planet hospitable to humans and other life forms. However, it may surprise you that most of the planet’s heat comes from radioactive decay in its mantle. The breakdown of radioactive elements like uranium and potassium creates heat that rises up to Earth’s crust.
Heat is essential to Earth’s functioning. The radioactive heat produced under the surface moves our continents and keeps our oceans moving smoothly. Interestingly, some scientists believe that the heat from radioactive decay accounts for only half of Earth’s heat. “Primordial heat” from our planet’s creation may account for the other half.
The Sun’s Speed of Light
Life as we know it wouldn’t exist without the sun's rays' light, heat, and energy. The Sun lives around 93 million miles away from Earth. Thankfully, its light doesn’t take millions of years to reach us. It takes sunlight eight minutes and 19 seconds to travel from the Sun to Earth’s surface.
Eight minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of cosmic timing. However, it’s pretty neat to think about how fast light can travel through space and how that affects our perception of time. Because it takes eight minutes for sunlight to travel to us, we always see the sun as it was eight minutes ago. This goes without saying, but please don’t look directly at the sun. Just imagine an eight-minute delay next time you think about how warm the sun is on your back.
The Darvaza Gas Crater
The Darvaza Gas Crater is one of the most famous mysteries of our natural world. This crater is a mysterious gas field that is always burning in Turkmenistan. If you Google a picture of it, it’s pretty obvious why people have dubbed it the “Door to Hell.” Photos of the crater show a lava-infested, ominous lake of molten fire. Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying.
But what causes this amazingly scary phenomenon? Natural gases seep out of the surrounding rocks and into the crater. The gas turns to flame once it comes into contact with oxygen, creating an intense, fiery sight. Although the origin of the crater is unknown, some think it was created in the 1960s or 70s by a sinkhole collapse.
The World’s Tallest Mountain Isn’t What You Think
Ask anyone about the tallest mountain in the world, and they’re guaranteed to name Mount Everest. However, Mount Everest technically isn’t the tallest mountain in the world. Sure, it has the highest altitude point above sea level, but the title for tallest mountain on the planet goes to the Maunakea Volcano in Hawaii.
The majority of the mountain is underwater, so its true height is hidden from human eyes. Although it has a lower altitude than Mount Everest, Maunakea Volcano is 33,500 feet tall, from its underwater base all the way to the top. Mount Everest is only 29,032 feet from base to top, making it the second-tallest mountain but the highest altitude.
Earth Is Sinking
Before you panic, Earth isn’t sinking into a black hole or anything. However, parts of the planet’s land mass are sinking so much that these changes can be seen from space. That is a cause for concern. Sinking, or subsidence, usually occurs in populated areas that need to remove groundwater from below the Earth’s surface.
Why is this a big deal? Well, many major cities are at risk of sinking, and some places are experiencing subsidence at this very moment. Researchers use satellite images to track the sinkage of various places across the globe, such as the San Joaquin Valley in California.
The Reason Behind Leap Years
Believe it or not, human time doesn’t match up perfectly with solar time. Our days aren’t a perfect 24 hours long, and our years are not exactly 365 days. It takes Earth 365.2564 days in solar time to orbit the Sun. The extra .2564 eventually adds up to a full day, so humans throw an additional day onto the calendar every four years to make up for the extra time.
Humans didn’t always use leap years to account for extrasolar time. Roman Emperor Julius Ceasar is credited as the first ruler to enforce the concept of leap year. If we didn’t have a leap year, our concept of time and seasons would eventually be thrown off. Without leap years, winter would happen in July for countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
Antarctica Is the Coldest Place on Earth
If you think the average winter temperatures are cold, think again. The lowest temperature ever recorded was in Vostok, Antarctica, on July 21, 1983. The temperature was a bone-chilling -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Northeastern winters have nothing on Vostok. In fact, Vostok also held the previous record for the lowest air temperature, which was -127 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1960s.
Vostok Station is the world’s most remote research center, so it makes sense that the lowest air temperature recorded would be far from civilization. There’s no way humans could survive such frigid temperatures. Antarctica also holds the record for the lowest surface temperature ever recorded, with a snow surface temperature of -144 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earthquake Weather Is a Myth
As humans, we love to recognize patterns and read into coincidences. It’s part of how our species makes sense of the world around us. A common pattern we like to call out is the concept of earthquake weather. Many of us believe that we can predict an earthquake based on the weather a few days before. Cloudy skies, oppressively hot temperatures, and calm winds are common features of earthquake weather.
Despite the popularity of this concept, there’s no actual proof that earthquake weather is real. Earthquakes happen in any type of weather, from hot to rainy, cold to sunny. As it turns out, earthquake weather is just a wive’s tale that originated with the Ancient Greeks.
Earth Was a Water World
When our planet was a young new thing, it may have been a water world. According to Live Science, some researchers hypothesize that there were no continents anywhere on the surface of our planet about 3.2 billion years ago. It’s wild to think of our populated, spectacular world as a complete water world, but it could very well be true.
Researchers sampled ancient rock from the ocean floor near Australia. The elemental makeup of the rock had a specific oxygen isotope in it, indicating that none of Earth’s crust was visible above sea level. This discovery was made just a few years ago and can help scientists learn more about how life evolved on our planet.
The Stromboli Volcano
The Stromboli Volcano in Italy is one of Earth’s most active volcanoes. It has been erupting continuously for over 2,000 years, which is why people have nicknamed it the “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” Its fiery peaks can be seen for miles and are almost never dark.
Records show that the Stromboli Volcano has had a variety of eruptions. Some eruptions have been mild, while others have been more violent. However, this volcano has a common eruption style that is so distinctive it’s been dubbed the “Strombolian style.” This “style” is usually a mild explosion with bits of lava bursting out. Basically, it’s the type of eruption most of us think about when we picture a volcano.
The Earth Was Purple
While we do have some answers, the mysteries of ancient Earth are still largely unsolved and unknown. One interesting theory about the appearance of our early planet is that it used to be as purple as it is green today. A purple planet? How can this be? Well, buckle up for the explanation.
Some scientists theorize that ancient plants didn’t use chlorophyll to photosynthesize. In case you didn’t know, chlorophyll is the molecule plants use today during photosynthesis that gives them their signature green color. Back then, plants may have used retinal in photosynthesis. Retinal would have reflected back a purple color when converting the sun’s light to energy. This sounds pretty cool. We want to see a majestic ancient forest cloaked in shades of natural purple.
The Pacific Ocean Is Earth’s Largest Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is truly vast. It covers over 63 million square miles. That’s large enough to comfortably fit all of Earth’s continents inside its basin. On top of its vast size, it’s also the world’s deepest ocean basin. The Mariana Trench calls the Pacific Ocean home; experts estimate it’s almost seven miles deep.
How did the Pacific Ocean become our largest and deepest body of water? Its age has a lot to do with it. The Pacific basin is the oldest in existence, dating back around 200 million years. At that time, all of Earth’s landmass was united as Pangaea and dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Next time you visit Pacific waters, remember how ancient this body of water is.
Earth Is the Ultimate Recycling Center
Planet Earth is the original recycler. The ground we walk on is a recycled matter produced from Earth’s rock cycle. The rock cycle transforms rocks into igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Then, it does it all over again. It’s a slow-moving process that can take millions of years but is incredibly efficient.
Although it’s not a perfectly circular system, the rock cycle consists of solidifying magma on Earth’s surface, tectonic plates colliding to form rocks, and pressure compacting matter into sedimentary rocks. Eventually, every piece of rock will cycle through this process again. This is mind-blowing since rocks seem so solid and permanent to our human eyes.
Moss Can Grow on Anything, Anywhere
Moss is an essential part of biodiversity in any environment. This plant stores water, cleans the air, and helps other plants thrive. In addition, moss is a truly fascinating organism. It has the ability to grow in pretty much any environment, even under snow. Moss has been found thriving in the driest deserts and the coldest, barest rocks.
Moss can survive in so many different places because it uses special “hairs” to suck up moisture in the atmosphere. In addition, the presence of moss is an indicator of an environment’s health. Mosses purify the air and help cool local temperatures considerably, making them friends with hikers and wild animals alike.
Sailing Stones at Racetrack Playa
Death Valley National Park in California is a unique environment home to many strange and wonderful organisms. The strangest phenomenon in this scorching desert is the sailing stones at Racetrack Playa. These rocks seem to move of their own free will across the perfectly flat desert. No one has ever seen these rocks moving in person, but each one leaves behind a trail as proof. What’s even more incredible is that some of these rocks weigh hundreds of pounds.
How is it possible for rocks to travel across the desert on their own? Scientists have been trying to figure out this phenomenon for decades, and they finally formed a hypothesis in 2014 based on stop-motion photography. Researchers think that rocks fall to the desert floor from the surrounding mountains. According to the National Parks website, the perfect combination of water, ice, and wind propels the rocks forward inch by inch.
The Oldest Known Animal
Humans are not the longest-living beings on this planet. Plenty of animals have a longer average lifespan when compared to humans. There are some animals that can live for centuries, which is pretty amazing. As of right now, the oldest known vertebrate species is the Greenland shark. This particular shark can live to be at least 270 years old. Some experts even think they can live to be 500 years old.
That means any Greenland sharks alive today could have been alive during the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Salem Witch Trials, among other notable events. This ancient shark species lives in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and is extremely elusive. Much of the Greenland shark’s life cycle is unknown to humans, but we know that they grow incredibly slowly.
The Driest Place on Earth
We all know that deserts are notoriously dry. However, the Atacama Desert in Arica, Chile, takes “parched” to a whole new level. This desert is the driest place on the planet. The area only sees about .03 inches of rain a year, and scientists believe some areas of the desert haven’t seen a drop of water for hundreds of years. These stats make the Atacama Desert drier than the North and South Poles, which is quite a feat.
On top of being the driest place on Earth, the Atacama is also believed to be the planet’s oldest desert. The desert plateau is so dry that its landscape resembles the Moon, providing scientists the opportunity to research its interesting rock and salt formations. The desert is so dry that its innermost landscape is devoid of all life save a few microbial organisms. That’s right. The Atacama Desert is so dry that not even moss can grow there.
The Word “Earth” Is Anglo-Saxon
We take the English word for our planet for granted. However, the modern word “Earth” is only about 1,000 years old. It’s derived from the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon word “erda” and the Old English word “eorþe,” both of which mean “soil” and “ground.”
Before Earth became the common name for our planet, civilizations used many different names to describe our home. In Greek mythology, Earth was personified through the goddess Gaia. The Ancient Romans called Earth “Terra Mater.” Despite our planet’s many different names throughout time, there is a common thread. No matter the language, every name derives from a word meaning “ground.” It looks like we have more in common with each other than we realize.
Earth Can Heal Itself
Humans have undoubtedly changed the environment of this planet through carbon emissions, the harvesting of natural resources, and other forms of serious pollution. Although climate change is a serious concern for humans everywhere, Earth does have its own way of healing itself. The thing is, this process is very, very slow.
One example of Earth’s ability to heal itself is the concerning hole in the ozone layer that was discovered in the 1980s. With the help of human intervention and regulation, Earth has been slowly repairing and closing the hole. If humans continue to ban chlorofluorocarbon chemicals, the ozone is set to reach pre-1980s conditions in just a few decades. That’s good news, at least.
Earth’s Largest Tree
Trees are amazing organisms that do so much for our planet’s ecosystem. Naturally, most of us are curious to know what the largest tree in the world is. The largest tree on planet Earth is the General Sherman Tree in California’s Sequoia National Park. This giant sequoia tree holds the record by volume.
The General Sherman Tree measures over 36 feet in diameter at its base and is 275 feet tall. Although this tree is the largest in the world, it’s not the oldest. The General Sherman Tree is anywhere between 2,300 to 2,700 years old. That’s about half the age of the oldest tree, called Methuselah. The General Sherman Tree definitely has some catching up to do.
Pangea and Panthalassa
Most of us learned about Pangea in elementary school. Pangea was a supercontinent that existed on Earth about 300 million years ago. It combined the land of what we know today as North America, Africa, Europe, and South America. While many of us love to focus on Pangea as the ultimate supercontinent, most of us forget about the other star of the show.
With any supercontinent land mass comes a larger superocean. While Pangea thrived all those years ago, the superocean Panthalassa wasn’t doing too bad either. It covered most of the planet and held who knows how many ancient aquatic species. The remnants of Panthalassa are still with us today. The Pacific Ocean is a direct descendant of this ancient superocean.
Earth Isn’t Perfectly Round
We’ve all seen satellite images of Earth. It looks perfectly round, right? Wrong! Our planet is actually not a perfect sphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth is an “irregularly shaped ellipsoid.” In addition, changes to the surface of Earth mean the shape of the planet is constantly changing.
Changes in sea levels, tectonic plates, and mountains create irregularities on the Earth’s surface, making it uniquely shaped. Most importantly, gravity and the centrifugal force of Earth’s rotation cause our planet to be wider around the equator and flatter along the North and South Poles. So, next time you’re gazing at a photo of our planet, don’t let its perfectly round appearance fool you. There’s much more than what meets the eye.
The Biggest Volcanic Eruption Ever
If you have a fear of volcanic eruptions, skip this fun fact because we’re talking about the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The fateful explosion occurred in April 1815 at Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Mount Tambora started acting up on April 5, 1815, by spewing gray clouds of gas. It all came to a head on April 10 when the volcano erupted in full force.
Mount Tambora’s eruption covered 36 miles of the surrounding area with sulfur, hot rocks, and ash. To give you an idea of how violent this explosion was, Mount Tambora was 14,000 feet tall before the eruption and 9,300 feet tall afterward. This massive explosion, unfortunately, killed thousands of people in the surrounding area due to both the blast and the famine that resulted afterward. Volcanic eruptions are no joke.
The World’s Longest Mountain Range
Mountains are majestic and breathtaking reminders of the power of our planet. These ancient landscapes can be mind-boggling in their height and length. However, the most mind-boggling mountain range of all is submerged underwater. The mid-ocean ridge holds the record for the longest mountain range, coming in at 40,389 miles long.
The mid-ocean ridge is made up of a huge chain of underwater volcanoes, making it an important part of our planet where seafloor spreading occurs. This range of mountains lives in the Atlantic Ocean and is constantly spewing magma to create a new ocean floor. That means the mid-ocean ridge has some of Earth's youngest, thinnest crust.
Our Soil Is Jam-Packed With Microbes
Healthy soil is full of a wild amount of life. There are about a billion microbes in one single teaspoon of soil. That means there are more microbes in a single scoop of dirt than there are humans in the world. Out of those billion microbes, there are usually about 10,000 different species. Talk about biodiversity.
These microbes include bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, which are essential to crop production and ecosystem health. Just because these microbes can’t be seen with the naked eye doesn’t mean they’re useless. These little guys help eliminate pests, decompose matter, and reduce plant stress. There’s a whole world underneath our feet that we can’t even see. Pretty cool, right?
The World’s Oldest Tree
Trees are amazing organisms that can live for hundreds, even thousands of years. However, there has to be an eldest tree to rule them all. If you’re wondering what the oldest tree in the world is, you’ve come to the right place. It’s a general consensus that the oldest tree in the world is a Great Bristlecone Pine named Methuselah.
Methuselah refers to a Biblical figure who lived to the ripe old age of 969. Needless to say, it’s a fitting name for the oldest tree in the world. Methuselah (the tree) lives in the Inyo National Forest in California. Experts say this very special tree is 4,842 years old. Don’t try to visit this incredible natural wonder. Its exact location is a tightly held secret to prevent potential vandalism.
Before Pangea, there was Rodinia. About 1 billion years ago, Earth’s tectonic plates came together to form this mega-continent. Rodinia existed for about 450 million years before it broke up into smaller land masses. There is ancient evidence of this supercontinent in rock formations around the world, and the Appalachian Mountains began as a result of Rodinia breaking apart.
We can only make educated guesses about what Rodinia was like all those years ago. Experts believe most of Rodinia was barren because it existed before multicellular life was on land. In addition, most of Rodinia was probably covered in glaciers or parts of what is now the South Pole. Although Rodinia gets forgotten for its more famous, younger sibling Pangea, it’s still just as important.
The Earth Is Dusty
If dusting the house is your least favorite chore, you’ll probably feel better when you hear this fact. Our entire planet is covered in cosmic dust. About 100 tons of interplanetary material drifts down to Earth every day. This space dust is made of tiny grains from meteorites containing extraterrestrial rock, minerals, and other organic compounds.
However, all the neat freaks out there can calm down. Most space dust is so small that humans can’t see it. Plus, Earth creates plenty of its own dusty matter that quickly mixes with cosmic dust, making it impossible to separate. This cosmic dust isn’t anything to be too concerned about. It usually just mixes in with Earth’s matter and doesn’t affect gravity or anything serious like that.
Aspen Trees, Unite
Aspen trees have to be some of the coolest trees on the planet. Aspens grow amidst a complex root system connecting every tree in a grove. That means all aspen trees growing in the same grove are connected to a single living organism. If you come across a single aspen, you can theoretically follow its roots to a parent tree somewhere nearby.
The underground network of roots is truly amazing. Aspen trees can survive for over a century, but their root system can live and thrive for thousands of years. The oldest known root system lives in Utah and is estimated to be about 80,000 years old. This intricate root system helps aspens survive extreme conditions, including forest fires.
We Can’t Predict Earthquakes
Despite all of our technological advances in recent decades, we still don’t know how to predict earthquakes. Scientists have yet to discover a reliable way to predict an earthquake's time, place, and potential magnitude with enough notice to warn people. A reason for this lack of knowledge is that the tectonic plates that cause earthquakes are usually stuck together until the moment of the quake.
The stress between the plates builds until it breaks, shifting the earth beneath our feet without warning. Even though we can’t predict earthquakes ahead of time, we’re getting better at detecting them when they start. States along the west coast of the US use detection software that registers the very beginning of an earthquake and warns residents a few minutes or seconds ahead of time.
The Lowest Land Point
The Mariana Trench might hold the record for the deepest point on our planet, but it's highly inaccessible and underwater. If we’re just talking about low points above sea level, the lowest accessible point on land is the Dead Sea, located between Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank. The lowest elevation at the Dead Sea is 1,385 feet below sea level. Yup, you read “below” correctly.
The Dead Sea’s name is a bit misleading. The body of water is a lake, which makes much more sense than a sea below sea level. How would that even be possible? Overall, the Dead Sea is an interesting place. Its extremely low elevation and the water’s high salinity make life nonexistent in the Dead Sea. Organisms simply can’t survive in such harsh conditions.
The Amazon Is Earth’s Largest Rainforest
We love to give the natural wonders of our planet labels like “hottest,” “largest,” or “tallest.” Many of these labels are hotly contested by experts and can change as we learn more about our planet. However, the Amazon rainforest takes the cake when it comes to its title of “world’s largest rainforest.” It really is larger than any other rainforest on our planet by a long shot.
The Amazon, located in South America, is 1.6 billion acres. The second-largest rainforest is the Congo Basin, which only covers 500 million acres. The rest of the world really has nothing on the Amazon. This rainforest is incredibly important and precious. It holds 10% of our planet’s biodiversity, and the highest number of undisturbed indigenous tribes call the area home. The Amazon has suffered from deforestation, drought, and intense fires, so its future hangs in the balance.
Planet Earth Is Heavy
Earth weighs about 6 septillion kilograms. A “septillion” is a whole lot of zeros. Twenty-four zeros, to be exact. Since we can’t put Earth on a scale to take its weight, scientists have reached this number by using advanced math and the laws of gravity. Also, this final number is technically Earth’s mass, not weight.
With all that being said, you may be wondering exactly how heavy 6 septillion kilograms is. Well, 6 septillion kilograms equals 55 quintillion blue whales, the heaviest creatures on Earth. That’s right. Planet Earth’s mass is equal to 55,000,000,000,000,000,000 blue whales.
Sea Levels Are Rising
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global sea levels have risen about 9 inches in the last century. That might not seem like a big deal, but it’s having a huge effect on our planet and its ecosystem. On top of that, the rate at which our oceans are rising is only getting faster due to climate change.
In fact, sea levels are predicted to rise up to two feet in the next century. The melting ice caps and sheets add more water to our warming oceans, causing volume to expand. That drastic change will bring about difficult and catastrophic consequences for low-lying islands and coastlines around the world.
Earth Has an Uneven Gravity Field
We take gravity for granted, but it’s not as constant of a force as we think. The gravity on our planet is uneven and varies depending on where you are. This occurs because Earth isn’t shaped like a perfect circle. Plus, the planet isn’t uniformly dense. Land masses like mountains, valleys, and plates create differences in our planet’s surface.
The ocean also affects gravity. Deep oceans and trenches can cause differences in the gravitational force as well. Gravity is weaker at various points on Earth, such as the equator and mountaintops. That’s because these points are farther away from Earth’s center. Interestingly, Hudson Bay in Canada has less gravity than any other place in the world.
The Sahara Is Earth’s Largest Hot Desert
Antarctica might hold the title of “world’s largest desert,” but its freezing climate makes it a desert unlike any other. The Sahara Desert in Northern Africa is, unsurprisingly, the largest hot desert in the world. The Sahara is so vast that it touches ten countries, including Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. It has a surface area of 3.6 million square miles.
The Sahara is a subtropical desert that was actually a grassland a few thousand years ago. The climate changed, and the Sahara now sees less than five inches of rain yearly. Although most of us picture its famous sand dunes, the Sahara Desert mostly comprises rocks and gravel.
The Moon Was Once Part of Earth
This fun fact is pretty well-known but still very interesting. Our beloved Moon was once part of our planet. Scientists hypothesize that a large, Mars-sized object collided with Earth billions of years ago. More specifically, experts believe the Moon was formed 4.53 billion years ago, making it about the same age as our planet.
Debris broke off and formed the moon as we know it today. So, the natural matter of the Moon is very similar to the matter on our planet when it was very young. Some scientists even think the Moon could have formed in a matter of hours after the collision, which is basically a millisecond in space-time.
The World’s Largest Stalagmite
Stalagmites have to be some of the coolest natural formations on the planet. They are beautiful mineral deposit formations that grow out of cave floors. Stalagmites are not to be confused with stalactites hanging from cave ceilings. As with any natural wonder of the world, humans can’t help but celebrate the biggest and most visually impressive stalagmites with pride.
The title of “world’s largest stalagmite” is actually contested. It appears to be a tie between a 230-foot high formation in Sơn Đoòng Cave, Vietnam, and another stalagmite of the same height in Cueva San Martin Infierno, Cuba. Some people differentiate the two by saying the formation in Vietnam is the largest stalagmite cluster, while the formation in Cuba is the biggest single stalagmite. Whatever the semantics, there’s no denying these things are huge.
The Least Densely Populated Country
It’s interesting to see how Earth’s 8 billion people distribute themselves across the globe. While humans love congregating in cities and along coastlines, there are some places where humans are few and far between. Greenland holds the record for being the least densely populated country in the world. Greenland Travel says only about 56,000 people reside on the world’s largest island.
So, why does a land mass that is bigger than France, Spain, and Italy combined have so few people on it? Greenland is uninhabited because most of the country is covered in ice. On top of that, its Arctic weather is extremely frigid, with winter temperatures rarely getting above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Earth’s Magnetic Poles Sometimes Flip-Flop
Despite what we like to think, nothing in this world is constant. Even Earth’s magnetic poles change over time. There’s evidence that the magnetic North and South Poles have flip-flopped every few hundred thousand years. This may sound terrifying and apocalyptic, but it’s a pretty normal occurrence for our planet.
According to NASA, the North and South Poles have swapped locations “183 times in the last 83 million years.” We’re not due for a pole reversal anytime soon, and the process takes a really, really long time. The magnetic field weakens during a pole reversal, and there’s no concerning evidence that our poles are reaching the required levels of weakness for such an event.
Lightning Strikes…A Lot
Lightning is one of the most awe-inspiring natural occurrences. Although many of us are frightened by these giant sparks of electricity, they’re actually pretty commonplace. There are about 44 strikes of lightning occurring somewhere in the world at any given second. That’s a lot of lightning.
In total, there are about 1.4 million lightning strikes a year. Each lightning strike packs a punch in a tiny package. According to the UK National Weather Service, a lightning bolt is only 1 inch wide but carries so much energy that it’s five times hotter than the Sun. That means each bolt of lightning can be over 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
There Is a Wild Amount of Viruses
Germaphobes, beware. You may want to skip this not-so-fun fact. It’s estimated that 10 nonillion viruses exist on our planet. If you’ve never heard of nonillion, that’s a number with 30 zeros. We hate to state the obvious, but that’s a lot of viruses. To put it into perspective, the number of viruses that exist in the world is more numerous than the number of stars in the universe.
According to National Geographic, we could assign one virus to every star 100 million times over. However, don’t sequester yourself in a sterile box just yet. Most of these viruses don’t pose a threat to humans at all. Even if a virus happens to jump between species, most of them are dead-end infections that never spread to others.
We Know More About Space Than Our Oceans
According to the National Ocean Service, 80% of the world’s oceans are unmapped and unexplored. This seems like a ridiculously high percentage, especially considering that we’ve mapped our entire solar system and the surfaces of other planets. How can we know so little about a huge part of our own backyard?
We haven’t explored more of our world’s oceans because of our lack of technology. It’s an exaggeration to say we know more about space (it is infinite, after all), but we have appropriate technology that helps us make new discoveries. When it comes to the ocean, its murky depths are too deep and high-pressure for humans to explore. Plus, sonar technology is quite pricey, making it nearly impossible to map the entire ocean.
Although the Moon is our planet’s only natural satellite, there are other near-Earth objects that are in Earth’s orbit. A few other companions, “mini-moons” beside the Moon, are notable. These “mini-moons” are satellite objects captured in Earth’s gravitational pull for an extended period.
Some notable “mini-moons” that scientists have observed are 2006 RH120 and 2020 CD3. These small asteroids are no longer orbiting the Earth, but they hung out in Earth’s orbit for a few months. For example, 2006 RH120 was observed near Earth for nine months. The 2020 CD3 satellite was in orbit for about three years until it left us in March 2020. Earth does, in fact, have extraterrestrial visitors from time to time.
Earth Can Redirect Heat From the Sun
Nature is truly fascinating. Our planet receives light and heat from the Sun, which then warms our atmosphere. Interestingly, planet Earth is a well-thought-out solar power machine. The sun doesn’t evenly heat our planet, so natural processes help move around energy and heat. Through conduction and convection, Earth is able to transfer energy where it’s most needed efficiently.
But don’t cancel your heating service just yet. Earth is only 1% efficient at redirecting heat, which is why we have the Arctic Poles. Not to worry, though. Earth’s intricate heat engine system keeps overall temperatures stable for us humans to live comfortably. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes, and we just experience a tiny bit of it.
Beneath the Earth Lies Many Mysteries
This may come as a surprise, but we know more about outer space than we do about what lies beneath the surface of the Earth. In fact, no one has ever drilled through Earth’s crust into the mantle. So much for our childhood fantasies of digging a hole to the other side of the planet.
However, advances in technology are helping scientists map the mysterious interior of our planet. Like an ultrasound, we can use seismic waves to scan our planet's inside. While we may never physically go beneath Earth’s crust, we can at least make educated guesses about what it looks like.
Earth Is More Than 70% Water
This fun fact may not come as a surprise since it’s one of the more common things we learn about our planet in school. It’s still pretty interesting, though. People often describe Earth as a “blue marble” because of the large bodies of water that cover most of its surface. These vast oceans, lakes, and glaciers mean that Earth’s surface is made of about 71% water.
Let’s break it down even further. Oceans, by far, make up a majority of that 71%. Saltwater from the ocean makes up 96.5% of the world’s water. The other 3.5% is freshwater, mostly found in lakes, ice caps, and glaciers. Although water makes up over 70% of the planet’s surface, it only accounts for less than 1% of Earth’s mass. The inner core is what gives Earth most of its mass.
Antarctica Is Earth’s Largest Ice Sheet
Antarctica may be the world’s largest desert, but it’s also the largest ice sheet in existence. This giant ice block represents 90% of Earth’s ice and 70% of its fresh water. But how big is it, exactly? Scientists estimate Antarctica’s ice sheet covers around 5.4 million square miles. That vast expanse holds a volume of over 7 million cubic miles of water.
Antarctica’s ice sheet is quickly melting due to climate change, so its appearance may change more. According to climate experts, the ice sheet loses approximately 150 billion tons per year. This isn’t the best news because sea levels would rise a whopping 200 feet if completely melted.
The Aurora Borealis Is Something Special
The Aurora Borealis is one of the most breathtaking natural phenomena on the planet. This spectacular show in the sky is more commonly known as the Northern Lights. It looks pretty, but something significant is also behind those beautiful greens, blues, and purples. The aurora borealis occurs when our planet’s magnetic field interacts with particles from the Sun.
The aurora borealis occurs near the North and South Poles since that is where Earth’s magnetic fields are centered. Protons and electrons from the sun collide with the magnetic field, creating mesmerizing lights in the atmosphere. The phenomenon is so bright that it can be seen from space, which is pretty cool. If you want to try observing these beautiful lights, your best bet is to go North to Alaska, Greenland, or Iceland.
Route 66 Is Longer Than Earth’s Insides
This fascinating fact might help you visualize the interior of our planet. Earth’s mantle and core distance is shorter than the United States’ famous Route 66. The famous highway is about 2,448 miles long. Scientists conclude that the distance between the mantle and core is a little less than that.
It’s pretty wild to think that the drive between Chicago, Illinois, and Santa Monica, California is technically shorter than a hypothetical drive from Earth’s mantle to its core. In addition, the drive would probably be just as scenic. Scientists researching Earth’s composition have found evidence of huge interior mountain ranges and irregular landscapes.
Humans Love Living on the Coast
Who doesn’t love a trip to the beach? Most humans love visiting and living along coastlines, as we know from the outrageous prices of oceanfront property. About 40% of the US population lives along a coastline, whether it’s along the Pacific or Atlantic. That number is pretty staggering once you consider how tiny our coastlines are compared to the rest of the country.
Coastlines make up only 20% of the country’s land area. That means US coastlines are more crowded than any other part of the nation. This statistic may change as sea levels continue to rise and coastlines change. But, for now, the beach is where it’s at.
Tokyo Has the Most People
There are about 8 billion people living on our planet. It’s pretty mind-boggling to think about. It’s even more mind-boggling to think about millions of people living in one concentrated area. There are tons of densely populated cities across the globe, but the city that takes the cake is Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo has the honor of being the most densely populated city in the world. According to the United Nations, about 37 million people live in Tokyo’s metropolitan area, and 14 million reside in the city proper. Originally named Edo, the city was founded in 1603 and became the country’s capital in 1868.
Earth Is a Terrestrial Planet
Humans have always been fascinated by the other planets in the night sky. With fascination comes classification, and Earth is one of four terrestrial planets in our solar system. The others are Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Earth is considered a terrestrial planet because it has a compact, rocky surface.
Interestingly, all four of our solar system’s terrestrial planets are closest to the sun. Although Mercury, Venus, and Mars are part of the same terrestrial club, Earth is the only planet that has enough oxygen to support life as we know it. The other planets in our solar system are Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter, and Saturn. These planets are classified as either ice giants or gas giants.
Earth has been gaining some weight in recent decades. The Earth has always had a “bulge” around the equator because of the planet’s rotational force and distribution of gravity. However, scientists have noticed that Earth’s spherical shape has gotten chubbier thanks to melting ice caps.
Earth’s circumference around the equator is currently 24,901 miles and growing. According to the University of Colorado, Earth’s waistline is expanding about 0.7 centimeters a year. The ice that is melting around the Poles gets redistributed across the world, with much of it congregating around the equator. This change in circumference will probably change Earth’s gravity over time, and scientists are closely monitoring its effects.
North America Used to Look Very Different
The shape of our continents seems so permanent to us that it’s hard to imagine the world looking any different. However, the land mass of our planet has gone through many changes. In fact, North America, as we know it today, used to be split in half by an ocean. This body of water, known as the Western Interior Seaway, was a large inland sea that separated North America into two distinct land masses.
The Western Interior Seaway existed for a mind-boggling 60 million years. That’s longer than the human species has been in existence. This ancient sea eventually disappeared due to natural sediment deposits from mountains and rocks lifting up from the Earth’s surface. It’s pretty wild to think that most of the Midwest was once underwater.
The Largest Single Cell Organism
We tend to think of single-cell organisms as tiny bacteria that can only be viewed through a microscope. Surprisingly, there are some rather large unicellular organisms out there. The largest we know of is called bubble algae. Commonly referred to as “sailor’s eyeballs,” this single-cell blob is a species of algae that can get as big as, you guessed it, an eyeball.
Bubble algae can grow in coral reefs, on mangrove trees, and underwater. These unicellular organisms can grow so large because of their unique structure. Even though they are one cell, they have multiple nuclei. So, if you squeeze one really hard (don’t do that), only a portion will “pop” and cause that damaged section to regrow and multiply. Pretty freaky stuff.
People Can Feel Earthquakes on the Other Side of the Planet
Quakes can occur up to 400 miles beneath the Earth’s surface. When strong earthquakes happen that deep, people on the other side of the planet can feel them. However, the reason they can be felt on the other side of the planet might not be the reason you think.
Studies have shown that earthquakes can trigger other earthquakes on the other side of the Earth. These are no aftershocks, either. They can be large-scale quakes in completely different parts of the world. A possible example of this is the 2013 earthquake in the Kuril Islands, off the coast of Japan. People all the way in Australia said they felt a quake at or around the same time.
The Moon Has Moonquakes
The Moon is more similar to our planet than we may think. According to NASA scientists, the Moon was created and captured in Earth’s orbit when our planet crashed into a “Mars-sized object.” Since then, the Moon has traveled around our planet as a constant companion. Like Earth, the Moon has a desert-like landscape with valleys and plains.
The Moon also has moonquakes, which are a lot like earthquakes. The quakes on the Moon are stronger than the quakes we experience on Earth. Also, research shows that moonquakes happen much farther below the surface than what we have on this planet. Overall, it’s a cool symmetry that further connects our planet to our Moon.
We’re Gradually Slowing Down
It always seems that there are never enough hours in the day to get things done. However, Earth’s days are gradually slowing down. In fact, Earth will have a 25-hour day in about 140 million years. How is this possible? Well, Earth’s rotation is imperceptibly changing speed. Ocean tides, the Moon, and land mass affect the speed at which our planet spins. The friction between ocean and land has been slowing down Earth’s rotation for thousands of years.
According to scientists, Earth has slowed down by six hours over the last two millennia. However, the change is so small that we humans shouldn’t be too concerned. On average, Earth gains about 1.8 milliseconds per day every century. So, we may not get to experience longer days during our life after all.
As the World Turns
The Earth travels around the sun at 67,000 miles, or 107,826 kilometers, per hour. We hate to state the obvious, but that’s really fast. Earth travels approximately 1.6 million miles a day and 584 million miles a year. We guess you could say the Earth is well-traveled.
In addition to this staggering amount of miles, the Earth is also constantly spinning at about 1,000 miles per hour. With all this movement, you’d think we’d feel something as we stand perfectly still on the ground. However, we don’t feel a thing because Earth is spinning at a near-constant speed. We’re just along for the ride, spinning with it through the universe.