101 Amazing Earth Facts

January 25 2010

I often think of the universe in general as incredibly fascinating for what we still do not know of it more so than what we do.

Still, every once in a while I am reminded that for all the wonderful mysteries that exist in outer space, the revelations we have accumulated as a species about this portable habitat we call Earth can still be peculiar and amazing.

I stumbled upon a SPACE.com article titled 101 Amazing Earth Facts whilst investigating Fermi’s Paradox and decided to temporarily redirect my focus from the possibility of alien life to amazing discoveries of Earth.

Only some of the facts from the SPACE.com list appeal to me and so I have created a list below with facts from that article and here, in my own words, and with additional information where I see fit.

What is the age of planet Earth?
The Earth is over 4.5 billion years old, determined by a process called radiometric dating which measures the decay of long half-life isotopes. It formed just 10 million years after the birth of our sun.

Is Earth the largest rocky planet in the solar system?
Yes, with a diameter at the equator of 12,756 km (7,926 m) marginally beating Venus which is 12,104 km (7,521 m) wide.

How much surface area does Earth contain?
510,100,000 square kilometers (196,950,711 square miles).

Has the moon always been so close?
No. A billion years ago, it took the Moon 20 days (29.5 days at the moment) to orbit us making one lunar month. One day was 18 hours long. The moon continues to move farther into space at 4 centimeters (1.6 inches) a year. At the same time, the Earth’s rotation is slowing down and in the distant future, one day will be 960 hours long.

What is the hottest place on Earth?
El Azizia in Libya with the highest recorded temperature of 57.8 °C (136 °F) on September 13, 1922. Runner up is Death Valley in California (USA) with 56.6 °C (134 °F) on July 10th, 1913.

What is the coldest place on Earth?
Vostok, Antarctica with the lowest recorded temperature of -89C °C (-129 °F) on July 21st, 1983.

What is the driest place on Earth?
Africa, Chile with 0.76 millimeters (0.03 inches) of rain a year. It would take a century to fill a coffee cup.

What is the wettest place on Earth?
Lloro, Colombia averaging more than 13 meters (40 feet) of rainfall a year.

On average, how much water is used worldwide each day?
400 billion gallons.

How fast can mud flow?
At speeds in excess of 160 kph (100 mph).

What makes thunder?
Thunder is an acoustic shockwave produced when the air around a lightning bolt heats with an expansion rate exceeding the speed of sound and that results in a sonic boom (thunder). The air around that lightning bolt heats up to up to 30,000 °C (54,032 °F) which is relatively 5 times the temperature of the sun’s surface.

On average, how many lightning strikes occur worldwide every second?
100 that hit the ground. Most go from cloud to cloud. Of the latter, there are are than 1,000 thunderstorms a minute generating 6,000 flashes of lightning.

What is the highest, driest, and coldest continent on Earth?

What is the origin of the word Volcano?
From Vulcan, the Roman God of fire.

How many people worldwide are at risk of volcanoes?
500 million people as of the year 2000–the equivalent of the number of people inhabiting the Earth at the beginning of the 17th century.

What volcano killed the most people?
Tambora in Indonesia. Estimated to have killed 90,000 people in 1815, most of which did not perish from the actual eruption but from the starvation, water contamination and diseases that followed.

How many of Earth’s volcanoes are known to have erupted in historic times?
540 on land. The amount of eruptions of undersea volcanoes is unknown.

What three countries have the countries have the greatest number of historically active volcanoes?
In descending order of activity: Indonesia, Japan and the USA.

Where was the deadliest known Earthquake?
It occurred in central China in 1557 taking 830,000 lives. The number is so high because the affected area consisted of people living in soft rock caves.

Where do most earthquakes occur?
At depths less than 80 km (50 miles) below the Earth’s surface.

Where do some of the deepest earthquakes occur?
As deep as 644 km (400 miles) below the surface where two tectonic plates move toward one another and one slides (subducts) underneath and into the Earth’s mantle.

How many minerals are known to exist?
Minerals are crystalline inorganic compounds that form through geological processes. Although some have existed for billions of years, they do not last forever. They are created from bubbling lava, sediment-laden seawater, or chemical reactions deep in the Earth’s interior. There are about 4,000 known minerals with only 200 of major importance. Each year, 50-100 new minerals are discovered in different parts of the world.

Can rocks grow?
Types of rocks called iron-manganese crusts are essentially mineral deposits that occur over large areas of sea floor. The minerals crystallize out of ambient sea water and grow up to 10 millimeters per million years. (Note: The Article claims 1 millimeter).

Is ice a mineral?
Yes. In its frozen state, water has crystals and all the physical properties of a mineral.

What is the softest of all minerals?
Talc-commonly used for making talcum powder.

What is the hardest of all minerals?
A diamond.

How are colours produced in fireworks?
From different coloured minerals–strontium for deep red, copper for blue, sodium for yellow, and iron fillings and charcoal pieces for gold sparks. Aluminum powder produces the bright flashes and loud bangs.

How much gold has been discovered worldwide to date?
More than 425 million pounds (193,000 metric tons). Stacked together it would make a cube shaped seven story structure.

What are the two major gold-producing countries?
South Africa producing 5,300 metric tons a year and the USA with more than 3,200 metric tons.

Where are the oldest rocks on Earth found: on land or on the ocean floor?
On land – 4, 500 million years old. Rocks on the ocean floor are continually generated by the movement of the continental plates across the Earth’s surface making them at most less than 300 million years old.

Which of the Earth’s oceans is the largest?
The Pacific Ocean covering 165 million square kilometers (64 million square miles).

What is the deepest place in the ocean?
The Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, South of Japan and near Mariana Islands at a known depth of 11 kilometers (6.9 miles).

What is the largest lake in the world?
The Caspian Sea–by size and volume located between southeast Europe and west Asia.

What is the world’s deepest lake?
Lake Baikal in the south central part of Siberia at 1.7 kilometers (5,712 feet) in depth. It is nearly 20 million years old and contains 20% of the Earth’s fresh liquid water supply.

Are all tsunamis high waves when they strike the coastline?
No. Most tsunamis reach the shore like very strong and fast tides.

Is California, USA sinking?
Yes. Up to 11 centimeters (4 inches a year) in places. At some point, water and sewage systems may be at risk.

How much of the Earth’s land surface is desert?
About one third.

What is the world’s largest desert?
The Sahara Desert in Northern Africa–more than 23 times the size of California’s Mojave Desert.

What is the fastest surface wind ever recorded?
372 kilometers per hour (231 miles per hour) at Mount Washington New Hampshire on April 12th, 1934. A tornado in Oklahoma in May of 1999 measured at 513 kilometers per hour (318 miles per hour). Neptune’s winds on the other hand can reach 1,448 kph (900 mph).

What is the world’s largest Island?
Greenland at 2,176,000 square kilometers (840,000 square miles). It is one third the size of Australia. Why Greenland an island and Australia a continent? The four characteristics of a continent are: tectonic independence from other continents, unique flora and fauna, unique cultures and local opinion about the subject. Greenland has neither of the first three and on the last issue, local opinion is that it is an island.

Are rivers alive?
Not exactly. They have lifespans and like most living creatures, are born, grow, age and even die in the span of geological time.

About how much would the seas rise if the Atlantic Ice Sheet melted?
The Atlantic Sheet holds nearly 90% of the Earth’s ice and 70% of its fresh water. If it all melted, sea levels would rise nearly the height of a 20 story building. The United Nations estimates that in the worst case scenario, global warming can cause the seas to rise 1 meter (3 feet) by 2100.

What is the Earth’s only equatorial glacier?
Mt. Cotopaxi in Ecuador.

What North American plant can live for thousands of years?
The creosote bush which grows in the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan deserts. Some of them may endure 10,000 years.

Have there always been continents?
No. About 1.2 billion years ago, fragments of continental crust pushed together by tectonic motion, began to create a supercontinent called Rodinia. Rodinia existed for 350 million years until the Earth’s internal heat began to increase beneath it causing the crust to dome, stretch, weaken and rupture along a line now running north to south. Water began to fill the rift causing an explosion of life. Then came Gondwana and later Pangaea–which began to break up around 250 million years ago and eventually fragmenting into the continents of today.

Will Earth always be here?
No. In a few billion years the sun will swell enough to absorb the Earth. However, one mathetical calculation shows that it may be theoretically possible to move the Earth to a more distant orbit–approximately by 50%.

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