Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Earth Is So Habitable

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Earth Is So Habitable

Article excerpt

Compared to Venus and Mars, Earth is a pretty habitable place. So how did we get so lucky? A new study sheds light on the evolutionary path that enabled Earth to sustain life.

The research, published in Nature Geoscience, suggests that Earth's first crust, which was rich in radioactive heat-producing elements such as uranium and potassium, was torn from the planet when asteroids bombarded Earth early in its history, a phenomenon known as impact erosion. Researchers say the loss of these two elements ultimately determined the evolution of Earth's plate tectonics, magnetic field, and climate.

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"The events that define the early formation and bulk composition of Earth govern, in part, the subsequent tectonic, magnetic, and climatic histories of our planet, all of which have to work together to create the Earth in which we live," says Mark Jellinek, a professor at the University of British Columbia. "It's these events that potentially differentiate Earth from other planets."

On Earth, shifting tectonic plates cause regular overturning of Earth's surface, which steadily cools the underlying mantle, maintains the planet's strong magnetic field, and stimulates volcanic activity. Erupting volcanoes release greenhouse gases from deep inside the planet, and regular eruptions help to maintain the habitable climate that distinguishes Earth from all other rocky planets. …

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