November 24, 2012 1:35 am

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Pretend you are an alien explorer from outer space looking for life on other planets. Your spaceship flies into a group of stars that looks like a gigantic whirlpool. The whirlpool is the Milky Way Galaxy.
You head for a star with nine planets in one arm of the Milky Way. The third planet from the star is a beautiful blue, white, and green ball. This planet looks like it has life. The name of this planet is Earth.
Earth spins like a top on its axis. Earth’s axis is an imaginary line that goes through Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole. Earth’s axis is slightly tipped, like a spinning top leaning to one side.
Earth travels around the Sun at about 67,000 miles per hour (about 107,000 kilometers per hour). One year is one trip around the Sun. Earth’s path around the Sun is slightly oval-shaped. This oval shape causes Earth’s distance from the Sun to change during the year.
The Sun seems to rise in the morning, cross the sky during the day, and set at night. However, the Sun does not actually move around Earth. Earth’s turning on its axis makes it look as if the Sun is moving.
Earth makes a complete turn on its axis every 24 hours. As Earth turns, half of the planet faces the Sun, and the other half faces away. It is daytime on the half facing the Sun. It is night on the half facing away from the Sun.
Earth has seasons because of the tilt of its axis. For part of the year, the top half of Earth is tipped toward the Sun. The top half of Earth is called the Northern Hemisphere. During another part of the year, the bottom half of Earth is tipped toward the Sun. The bottom half is called the Southern Hemisphere. It is summer in the half that is tipped toward the Sun. It is winter in the half tipped away. When it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere. During spring and fall the hemispheres are tipped neither toward nor away from the Sun.
The equator is an imaginary line around Earth’s middle. The farther you are from the equator, the greater the difference in temperature between seasons. The equator never tips far from the Sun. Near the equator it is warm enough to go swimming all year long. The average temperature barely changes from month to month. In Alaska, far from the equator, the average temperature in January can be more than 60 degrees colder than it is in July.
Earth has just the right conditions for life. It is not too hot or too cold. Earth has lots of liquid water and an atmosphere (gases) that can support life.
The first kinds of life may have appeared on Earth 3.8 billion (3,800,000,000) years ago. Several times during Earth’s history, almost all life went extinct, or disappeared. Each time, some life forms survived. The survivors spread all over the planet. Dinosaurs appeared about 230 million years ago. Dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago. Scientists believe that modern humans appeared about 130,000 years ago.
Earth is made of layers. The top layer is called the crust. It is made of hard rock and soil.
More than 70 percent of Earth’s crust is covered with water. Most of the water is salt water in the ocean. Pieces of dry land called continents rise above the ocean. The part of Earth’s crust under the ocean is called the seafloor.
Under the crust is a layer of partly melted rock called the mantle. Under the mantle is Earth’s core. The core is mostly iron. The outer part of the core is liquid metal. The inside of the core is solid metal. Scientists believe that the liquid metal makes Earth a giant magnet and creates Earth’s magnetic field.
Earth’s crust is made of gigantic slabs of rock called plates that move over the mantle. Plates crash together to make mountains. They pull apart and let red-hot rock ooze up from inside Earth to make new crust.
Scientists think that Earth and the rest of the solar system formed from a spinning cloud of gas and dust. Gravity pulled most of the gas and dust together to form the Sun. Some leftover gas and dust formed Earth and the other planets. Scientists think that Earth and the Moon formed about 4.6 billion years ago.
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