Have you ever stopped to think about just how fascinating the Earth is? The planet that we call home is the only place that we know of that has life. Also, there are remarkably diverse forms of life, from the bottom of the ocean to some of the coldest, most remote landforms. Geologically, the processes shaping our planet for billions of years are continuing to this day, creating spectacular formations and new ecological systems. Read on to learn some staggering and downright strange facts about the planet we call home.
50. Every year, one million billion cubic feet of snow fall to Earth.
That is the number one, followed by 15 zeros! According to cloud physicists, about one million billion kilograms of snow falls to Earth each year, with each cubic foot weighing approximately one kilogram. Did you know that was even a job you could have? Moreover, in each cubic foot, there are about a billion tiny snowflakes. With that many snowflakes falling from the skies each year, the adage that no two snowflakes are alike may not be accurate, simply because there are so very many snowflakes. Good luck parsing through those millions of billions of snowflakes trying to find two that are the same.
You may not know this, but snowflakes are made when multiple snow crystals stick together – we’re talking hundreds! The number of snow crystals that fall to the Earth each year is about one septillion – that’s 24 zeros! A snow crystal starts as just a little grain of dust in a cloud, but as water vapor condenses on the grain and freezes, it forms a crystal. Scientists have determined that the ideal temperature for snow crystals to grow the fastest is 5 degrees Fahrenheit because it has something to do with how the water molecules cluster on the ice.
49. The largest mountain chain on Earth is underwater.
The longest mountain chain on the Earth’s surface is the Andes, which runs like a corridor through South America. This chain is 4300 miles long, which may sound like a lot, but it is nothing compared to the Mid-Ocean Ridge. The Mid-Ocean Ridge, which stretches over 40,390 miles long, runs throughout the Earth’s oceans like the seams on a baseball. The Mid-Ocean Ridge is around 90% underwater and was formed by tectonic activity that caused magma to push up onto the ocean floor’s surface. Many of the mountains in the chain are volcanoes that erupted underwater.
Tectonic plates are basically giant slabs of rock – think thousands of kilometers across in size. The largest plates are the Pacific and Antarctic plates. As they shift or separate, they allow the molten rock to rise to the seafloor, which then creates the ridges we’re talking about. Their size and shape are also affected by the speed at which the molten rock spreads – faster spreading creates steeper peaks, while slower spreading creates wider, more gentle slopes. Believe it or not, we know very little about the mid-ocean ridge system – only about one percent of it has been explored in detail, though we have mapped about half of the ridges in high resolution.
48. The Earth may have been purple in ancient history.
When kids draw the Earth, it’s usually an unmistakable circle of green and blue, even if the continents aren’t clear, but that may not have always been the case. The Earth is known as the blue planet because much of it is covered with water, which gives off a blue tint. The rest of the Earth is green because of the plants that use chlorophyll to harness the sun’s rays and convert them into energy. However, some scientists believe that ancient microbes may have metabolized the sun’s rays with retinal, a molecule that is a deep purple color rather than green. It means that the early Earth may have been purple rather than the characteristic blue and green that we see today.
Some scientists speculate that the reason for this puzzling color-change – if it is true – is due to the microbe’s evolutionary process. Microbes that used chlorophyll were unable to compete with the ones that needed retinal, but they evolved to use something else – blue and red light since green light was being absorbed. Since chlorophyll production is more efficient, the ecosystem eventually tipped its balance in favor of that. However, that does pose an interesting question: if this is true for Earth, what should we keep in mind when looking for an indication of life on other planets? Perhaps chlorophyll isn’t always the answer.
The Valdivia earthquake rocked Chile in 1960, measured between 9.4 and 9.5 on the Richter scale, with different measuring equipment recording different intensities. The number of fatalities was estimated between 1,000 and 7,000, with as much as $6.78 billion in today’s dollars in damage. The earthquake was so strong that it sent tsunamis as far as Japan, Hawaii, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and even Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, as far as 6200 miles from the epicenter. The most significant recorded wave from the event was 82 feet high and devastated the coast of Chile.
There is a reason it was also called the Great Chilean Earthquake! The “megathrust” earthquake lasted approximately 10 minutes, and it seemed to be one of a series of earthquakes in 1960 that affected the country. The series of earthquakes is known as the Concepcion earthquakes. The first three all were registering in the top 10 magnitudes for the year. As a result of the Valdivia earthquake, wetlands were created in the Rio Cruces and Chorocomayo. As if a 9.5 earthquake wasn’t enough, two days later, a volcanic vent, Cordon Caulle, erupted!
46. One glacier produces 10 percent of Earth’s meltwater.
A glacier is a vast mass of ice that moves slowly over land, which is not to be confused with an iceberg, and they are grouped into two categories: alpine glaciers and ice sheets. Essentially, snow becomes compressed over the years on these glaciers and eventually fuse into solid ice masses. The glacier’s weight, combined with the meltwater’s slickness, makes it glide along the landscape. The Canadian Arctic glacier is about the size of New York’s state, and as it melts, it contributes to 90% of the ice melt that is causing sea levels to rise. Between the years 2004 and 2009, it lost enough ice to fill 75% of Lake Erie.
However, other ice sheets are also melting at increasingly rapid rates due to climate change. The Greenland ice sheet drew international attention during the summer of 2019 when its melt rate caused it to lose billions of gallons of ice each day. Glaciers in Alaska and the Antarctic ice sheet are also losing vast amounts of ice in increasingly large numbers. Meltwater provides drinking water for a significant amount of the world’s population and provides water for agricultural irrigation and hydroelectric power. The cities that mostly utilize meltwater include areas in Australia and on the Western coast of North America.
45. Earth has a bit of a spare tire around its middle.
If you look in the mirror and notice a bit of a muffin top or spare tire around your middle, you aren’t alone. The Earth has one, too. The planet may look like a perfect sphere to our naked eye, but in fact, it bulges out slightly at the equator. That is because of its rotation, which is happening at 1000 miles per hour. If you measure the distance between sea level and the core of the Earth at the equator, that distance is about 13 miles greater than that at the poles.
It may not be enough of a difference for you to see it in a photograph, but enough that Mother Earth might feel a bit self-conscious in a bikini. The shape is best described as “oblate spheroid,” but even that isn’t entirely accurate. The easiest solution is for people just to call it round. It’s not a perfect oblate spheroid. Why? The Earth’s mass is distributed unevenly, depending on how mass is distributed. There is a higher concentration of mass. There will be a higher gravitational pull, creating more bumps. The difference in some areas may be as minute as a centimeter, but it’s still not a perfect circle.
Even when you’re sitting still, you’re moving through space at an incredible rate. With faster motion near the equator and slowing down at the poles, the rotation of the Earth creates the energy to circulate the air and water across the planet. This assists in regulating temperatures in both mediums – for example, the Gulf Stream carries warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to Great Britain! In addition to spinning 1000 miles per hour, the Earth rotates the sun at a breakneck speed of over 66,000 miles per hour! We don’t feel the dizzying effects of this perpetual-motion because we have no constant to measure it against.
This rapid movement is all that we have experienced. Nevertheless, add to the Earth’s axial and orbital rotations that the solar system itself is in orbit, moving at speeds of 560,000 miles per hour around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. It takes the sun a “galactic year” to orbit our galaxy – 225 million years! In all our recorded history, we have barely moved in our path around the Milky Way. The galaxy is spinning around other galaxies inside the universe. For all we know, the universe itself is revolving around some great unknown.
We’ve already talked about how you’re moving without even being consciously aware of it. The Earth rotates at a remarkably fast speed – 1,000 miles per hour, or nearly 500 meters per second! Each day is 24 hours long, but the actual time down to seconds is 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.09053 seconds. Keeping that up instead of rounding up to an even 24 would turn into a nightmare very quickly – that’s why we have leap years. Twenty-four hours (or 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.09053 seconds) is what we call the “sidereal period,” or the time it takes for a celestial body to complete one revolution concerning a fixed point outside the system.
The rotation speed we experience means that you travel almost one-half a kilometer every second without even moving your feet off the ground. Depending on where on Earth you are, you may be moving at a slower or faster speed. Earth rotates fastest around the equator, so you move faster than anyone else if you are in a tropical area. If you are on one of the poles, you are rotating in place. That is kind of like the way that a basketball spins on someone’s finger. If you want to experience this in a real-world application, try looking at a star at night through a telescope and see how quickly it moves out of the frame!
That’s right. The North Pole is moving, and it’s everyone’s fault. You may have heard before that the magnetic north pole and the geographic north pole are not in quite the same spot. That is partly because as the Earth moves through space, it wobbles a bit, causing the north and south poles to draft somewhat in cycles that last about a decade. Poles tend to move in directions of missing mass. Climate change leads to melting polar ice and depleting Eurasian aquifers. However, the north pole is drifting eastward at a breakneck speed of 17 centimeters per year.
The North Pole is now moving towards Greenwich, England, where the prime meridian runs. For context, it had been moving toward Canada at the pace of about seven or eight centimeters annually. In 2000, the North Pole changed direction towards the British Isles. Scientists are excited about the research highlighting the human impact on the planet and assure us that there is nothing to worry about; this is just another effect of climate change. They have also previously discovered that humans aren’t just changing the direction of the axis, we’re also making it spin more slowly!
41. The north and south poles regularly switch places.
For this to make sense, let us give you some context first. The Earth’s core contains liquid iron, which generates a magnetic field and protects us against the sun’s radiation. You’re probably thinking, “Ok, but North is always north, and the south is still south, right?” Not so much. The planet’s poles are determined by its strong magnetic fields fueled by this rotating iron core we mentioned. Storms that occur inside the Earth’s core cause the magnetic field to shift periodically. The area can even completely change its polarity, with the North Pole and the South Pole switching “places,” so to speak.
This event is called “reversal” and is entirely natural. It’s not at all anything to worry about – in fact, the last time it happened was about 780,000 years ago, though it could happen more frequently. A few are worried about the impact on animal life, but other scientists study these events through fossil records, and they have found that pole reversals have no significant effect on plant and animal life. Some scientists say we’re probably due for a reversal soon, but that could mean hundreds or thousands of years before the next reversal. Time works differently for Planet Earth!
40. Humans have only explored five percent of the Earth’s oceans.
It seems almost crazy that we know more about our moon and the nearby planets Venus and Mars than we do about our own oceans, but there’s a valid reason for that. Exploring the deep oceans is remarkably tricky because saltwater distorts radio waves and causes equipment to fail. At intense levels, the water pressure destroys many measuring instruments. As a result, scientists have only explored about 5% of the ocean floor, even though nautical exploration is almost as old as humankind. Hundreds of thousands of nautical miles are covered each day between cruises, commerce and container shipping, and personal sailing – all without us having explored much of the sea.
Increasingly better technology has allowed us to make more detailed maps than ever, with resolutions of up to three miles, but that isn’t enough. The ocean can get up to 7 miles at its deepest point: the Mariana Trench. We have better plans for other solar system bodies than we do for our own oceans. The oceans make up about 70% of our planet’s surface, which means we’re incredibly uninformed of what happens on our own planet. However, it is much easier to send an exploratory team to space than to send one underwater.
39. One spot in Antarctica hasn’t seen rain or snow in two million years.
You may think of Antarctica as a land of constant snowfalls, and you would be partially correct. Nevertheless, frozen climates, like the Arctic tundra of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia, are often classified as deserts because they either receive so little precipitation or because the snow does not melt into the ground, leaving it very dry. The driest spot on Earth is a place known as Dry Valley, and it is in Antarctica. This location has seen no precipitation – no rain, snow, sleet, or hail – in over two million years. The area is so dry that scientists have found mummified seal bodies because the carcasses dried out.
The Dry Valleys make up about 4800 square kilometers and makeup approximately 0.03% of the continent. Despite the name, there are lakes there: Lake Vida, Lake Vanda, Lake Bonney, and the Onyx River. The reason there are no rains is due to Katabatic winds. These winds are so heavy with moisture. Gravity pulls them away from the Valleys! Interestingly, Lake Bonney is always covered with 3 – 5 meters of ice, and Lake Vanda is three times saltier than the ocean! The Onyx River is a meltwater stream and happens to be Antarctica’s longest river.
38. There are over 1,500 potentially active volcanoes.
In addition to the continuous belts of volcanic activity on the ocean floor, there are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes on the Earth’s crust. Five hundred of them have already erupted. A dormant volcano refers to exploding in the past and, though not currently erupting, could erupt again. Mount Saint Helens, located in Washington State, was a dormant volcano that was thought to be dead before its massive explosion in 1980. This volcano is part of a collection of volcanoes known as the Ring of Fire, which roughly circles the Pacific Ocean.
Most of the world’s potentially active volcanoes are located in the Ring of Fire, but there are plenty in other parts of the world with tectonic activity. In the United States alone, there are currently about 169 potentially active volcanoes! The world’s five most active volcanoes include the Sangay volcano in Ecuador, the Santa Maria Volcano in Guatemala, the Stromboli Volcano in Italy, Mount Etna in Italy, and Mount Yasur in Vanuatu, which is part of the Ring of Fire. The length of these volcanic activities ranges from 94 years to 111 years!
37. There are six potentially active supervolcanoes.
A supervolcano is more than a mountain with the potential to spew fire and ash into the atmosphere. It is a massive landform that, were it to erupt, could bring human civilization – and potentially all life on Earth – to its knees. Supervolcanoes have a “Volcanic Explosivity Index” or VEI of 8, which is the largest recorded value on the index. The most famous and possibly most heavily studied supervolcano is the Yellowstone National Park. Yes, the entire park is a volcano. There are no volcanoes inside the park; the park is the volcano! These monsters erupt about every 100,000 years, and scientists are concerned that the Earth may be due for another supervolcano eruption soon.
Supervolcanoes are created when magma rises into the crust but doesn’t breakthrough. The pressure builds into a large pool of magma until the crust cannot hold it any longer. Any supervolcano eruption can trigger long-term climate change effects – think Ice Age – and can lead to the extinction of a species or several of them. The most recent supervolcano eruption was when the Taupo Volcano exploded 26,500 years ago. The word “megacaldera” sometimes refers to a caldera supervolcano, like the Blake River Megacaldera Complex in Canada. What a tongue twister; try saying that ten times fast!
We have already touched a bit on this, but let’s explore the concept a bit further. There are two types of days, as measured on Earth. A sidereal day refers to how long the Earth takes to spin once on its axis, which is about 23 hours, 56 minutes, and four seconds (give or take a few milliseconds). It’s essentially the Earth’s time to rotate on its axis concerning the stars. However, that isn’t necessarily how long it takes for the sun to return to the sky’s same position, which we consider a solar day.
A solar day refers to how much time the sun spends catching up to Earth’s rotation to return to the same spot in the sky, and it is about 24 hours. But not exactly! That number can deviate by up to 16 minutes, based on what season we are currently in – that’s because our orbit is elliptical instead of perfectly round. A solar day is a time the Earth takes to rotate about its own axis so that the sun appears in the same position in the sky. It’s all based on solar time, of course – calculating the passage of time based on the sun’s place in the sky.
35. Gravity behaves differently in different places on Earth.
It may sound crazy because we assume gravity is a constant, but it varies because the planet is not perfectly spherical – it’s an oblate spheroid, remember? Due to the Earth’s rotation, gravity at the north and south poles is slightly greater than that at the equator. The distance between their centers of mass affects the gravitational force between them, so the force of gravity on an object is smaller at the equator compared to the poles. Essentially, this all means that you would weigh more standing on the poles than if you were in the tropics, even if your mass never changed!
It also means that if you were falling from the same height of about 100 meters at each point, you’d hit the surface in Peru about 0.16 seconds later than you would in the Arctic! Additionally, because the composition of the ground beneath your feet is different depending on where you are, gravity may behave differently. High-density materials and higher concentrations of mass, like mountains made of granite, can increase the force of gravity pressing down on you. However, you likely wouldn’t even notice the effect, as it would be too small.
34. Over half of Earth’s liquid water is in the Pacific Ocean.
About 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, with the oceans containing about 96.5% of all of that. Over 96% of the water on the Earth’s surface is saline, meaning it has salt content in it instead of freshwater. Don’t worry, though. There is much more freshwater stored in the ground – think of aquifers, for example. Melting glacier water and the water cycle keeps these underground reserves filled as water evaporates from the air’s surface, condenses and turns into vapor, and falls again in the form of precipitation.
The Pacific Ocean covers a vast amount of space – more than 60 million square miles, or 30% of the world’s entire surface. Given that Earth’s landmass is just under 30% of its surface, all of the continents and islands could comfortably fit inside the Pacific Ocean. This ocean’s average depth is 13000 feet, and it holds the world’s deepest point, the Mariana Sea Trench, which is 36000 feet underwater. Over half of the world’s liquid water is found inside the Pacific Ocean, whose name is derived from how calm and peaceful (pacific) its waters are.
33. There are over 6,000 lightning flashes on Earth, every minute!
Any given minute, over one thousand thunderstorms are happening! That means that there are about 6000 lightning flashes on Earth every minute, or 100 every second. They are more common in warmer climates but can occur almost anywhere. Thunderstorms are caused by currents of air rising and falling rapidly. These currents create friction, which essentially causes static. Most of the electrical energy in a thunderstorm is dispersed within the clouds, but lightning can sometimes reach Earth. That’s when it becomes more dangerous. Clouds on Earth are giant batteries because they are full of positive and negative charges. When they discharge, we see the effect in the form of lightning.
Each bolt of lightning is extremely hot – about five times hotter than the surface of the sun! The expansion of air caused by this burst of heat leads to a shockwave, what we experience as thunder. About one hundred US residents are killed by lightning each year, so it’s not something to mess with! Each lightning charge contains about 30 million volts – which means the total energy in a large thunderstorm can be greater than a single atomic bomb! If a thunderstorm warning is issued when you’re home, it’s best to unplug appliances and keep them away from windows. If you aren’t home, try to find a close, low-lying shelter or building. Assume a tucked position and avoid laying flat on the ground.
32. Earth’s largest living structure is the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, containing over 1600 different types of fish, 600 types of corals, and 100 types of jellyfish. Many of these species cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Located off the coast of Queensland, Australia, this massive body is about half the size of Texas or Japan’s total size! However, the Great Barrier Reef’s long-term prognosis is not suitable due to climate change and other human-caused factors leading to ecological degradation and breakdown. If current trends continue, this jewel of the seas will be completely dead within a decade.
This current reef formation is about six thousand to eight thousand years old; estimates are that it began forming during the Last Glacial Maximum. That makes it all the more disheartening that climate change and human impact is rapidly killing it off! The reef is large enough to be visible from space and comprises nearly 3,000 smaller, individual, interlinked reefs. These reefs are all divided by narrow passages just below the surface of the Coral Sea. Most of the Great Barrier Reef is a marine protected area and is managed by the Marine Park Authority of Australia. It was even chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
31. The largest known volcano eruption killed more than 60,000 people.
When you think of volcanic activity, specific “heavy hitter” names must come to mind, like Mount Vesuvius or Mount St. Helens. For example, Kilauea has been continuously erupting since 1983, complete with lava flows at times! In 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted, leaving a casualty count of 60 people and erased 232 square miles of forest. Though dormant for now, Mount Vesuvius buried the entire town of Pompeii in AD 79, and scientists think the next eruption could be even bigger! However, there are many impactful volcanoes that you may not be aware of.
Indonesia is a collection of islands in the South Pacific that has seen its fair share of volcanic activity. It is the home of the infamous Krakatoa and Anak Krakatoa, both of which have earned their volcanic lore places. It is also home to Tambora, a volcano that blew its lid in 1815, killing over 60,000 people, causing ten meter-high tsunamis, and triggering a global mini ice age. Of course, there have been more significant volcano eruptions throughout history, including eruptions of massive supervolcanoes. Some prehistoric volcanic eruptions were so extensive that they nearly caused nascent humanity to go extinct. However, we don’t have exact numbers for how many people died in these eruptions.
30. The hottest recorded temperature was 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
Death Valley, California, is located 190 feet below sea level and averages daytime temperatures of 115 degrees Fahrenheit. For our college football fans, we’re not talking about Louisiana State University’s football stadium! The area’s name isn’t just for show, though. In 1913, it set a world record when a staggering temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded at a site there known as Greenland Ranch. Though that claim was later set aside as “not possible from a meteorological perspective” because it did not align with other observations made in the region, the same area recorded 130 degrees Fahrenheit in August 2020. That was just the air temperature.
Temperatures on the ground at Death Valley are even hotter. In 1972, a ground-level measurement recorded a temperature of 201 degrees Fahrenheit, only 11 degrees away from water’s boiling point. The place’s intense heat is due to its low altitude and arid climate, which averages less than three inches of rainfall per year. It sits 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest, driest, and hottest location in the United States. Though there may be hotter places than Death Valley, they are too remote for reliable monitoring – and who wants to be out in that heat, anyway?
29. The coldest recorded temperature was -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
From one extreme to the other: we head to Antarctica, a place inhabited only by some hardy forms of wildlife and international teams of scientists. Most temperature records tend to stay constant for very long periods, though we see more and more record-breaking extremes in recent times. In 1983, at a Russian research station in Antarctica known as Vostok, an air temperature of -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit was measured, setting a world record. Another temperature reading in 2013 in central Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau, which encompasses the South Pole, measured at over –135 degrees Fahrenheit, but this measured surface temperature, not air temperature.
However, scientists generally agree that had the air temperature been measured, it would have been colder than that brutal day at Vostok in 1983. Researchers have revised that study since and found that temperatures can even reach -144 degrees Fahrenheit during the polar night. Talk about bone-chilling! This record is about as cold as it is physically possible for the Earth’s surface to get. For the temperature to get that low, clear skies and dry air need to persist for several days. Basically, after the temperature gets beyond a certain point, the air cools so slowly that it can’t get noticeably colder before the weather conditions change again.
One day today is about 1.78 milliseconds longer than one day a century ago. This figure is because the Earth’s spin is slowing down at rates so slight that they are undetectable unless you travel back thousands of years. So that’s precisely what scientists did. They looked at ancient records of eclipses and found that one eclipse, measured by Babylonian astronomers in 780 BCE, should have happened one-quarter of the Earth away. Comparing these findings to other records, they discovered that the planet’s rotation has slowed down enough to have lost about six hours in the past 2740 years.
“But, why – now?” you may be asking. Well, let’s look into that. It’s mainly because of the tidal forces between the moon and the Earth. Approximately every century, the day gets about 1.4 milliseconds longer. That may not seem like much, but when you add up all the centuries the Earth has been through, you can see where we’ve gotten to such a big difference. In fact, June 30, 2012, got one extra second in the day as a “leap second” to provide a standard time across the world – basically to keep UTC timing (Coordinated Universal Time). It sounds fancier than it was; it just meant clocks and timekeeping apps switched off for one second.
Scientists believe that stars created all of the elements on Earth. This notion is because the nuclear fusion that happens inside stars turns hydrogen into helium. Once the hydrogen stores are depleted, stars fuse increasingly heavier elements until they explode. In the explosions, elements like gold and platinum are formed. They gradually made their way to Earth through comets and asteroids. However, earthquakes can also create small amounts of gold. Who knew that Earthquakes had the Midas touch? There are seas of water inside Earth’s mantle, and when earthquakes happen, the water vaporizes and mixes with silica. A sudden drop in pressure in underground fractures causes the fluids to expand and evaporate in a process called flash vaporization.
The result is gold, though it is still trapped far beneath the Earth’s surface. Though it may not happen after one earthquake event, successive earthquakes in the same area can create a buildup of deposits and eventually lead to a significant gold concentration! Gold is usually found in quartz veins formed long ago when mountains were building up and deposited by large volumes of water along earthquake faults. Most gold mined already has been near, or on the Earth’s surface, so now miners are looking deeper into the crust. As scientists learn more about what creates these deposits, they can look for indications and guide their mining efforts.
26. Approximately 3,000 people have visited the highest place on Earth.
The highest point on Earth is Mount Everest in the Himalayas, a mountain range that cuts through the Asian countries of Nepal and Tibet. At 29,035 feet above sea level, summiting this monster of a mountain is no small feat. The first person to scale Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary, who summited the mountain in 1953. In his honor, there is even a peak in the Himalayas named after him. In the time since climbing the mountain has become a daredevil challenge. To date, over 3100 people have scaled Everest, though not everyone has made it back down.
The mountain gained new media attention in the summer of 2019 when a line of people who had climbed it had to wait their turn to make their mark on the summit. Over three hundred people have died while attempting the ascent, and many of their bodies are still on the mountain, as it is too challenging to try to retrieve them. Unfortunately, some of them are buried in deep crevasses. Some have even been moved because of the nature of moving glaciers they had fallen into. Despite the intense danger that climbing Everest inherently carries, many continue to aspire to reach its summit.
25. Only a few people have visited the lowest place on Earth.
The deepest point on Earth is Challenger Deep, and it is located inside the Mariana Sea Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The depression is named after a British Royal Navy ship, the HMS Challenger, which first made the recordings of its depths in the 1870s. The spot is 35,856 feet below sea level and is located between Japan and Papua New Guinea, an island off Australia’s coast. Despite the place’s incredible depth and massive pressure, many life forms exist there, including sea cucumbers and shrimp. The calcium animals need to form shells dissolves too quickly at that depth, so it is unlikely that shelled creatures would live in the trench.
Only thirteen people have visited Challenger Deep, one of whom is James Cameron, the movie director behind the blockbuster hits Titanic and Avatar. In March 2021, he crewed the deep-sub vehicle “Deepsea Challenger,” to the bottom of the Challenger Deep. His descent took over two and a half hours, and at the time, he was only the third person ever to visit that incredibly lonely place. After about six hours in the trench, he came back to the surface – seven miles up! The trench pressure is about the equivalent of eight tons pressing down on the sub, so the research and preparation in advance of this deep-sea dive were immense.
24. Antarctica is home to 70% of the Earth’s freshwater.
To put it differently: about 70% of our freshwater is frozen! Fully 90% of the planet’s ice is trapped in Antarctica. The southernmost continent was almost entirely frozen over. This “Antarctic ice sheet” covers nearly fourteen million square kilometers and contains over thirty million cubic kilometers of ice. Were all of the ice in Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by over 180 feet worldwide. This action makes the rapid warming of Antarctica and the rest of the world particularly troublesome. As temperatures rise, the melting of the polar ice sheets accelerates.
As Dr. David Wilson, a researcher from Imperial College London, puts it, “With current global temperatures already one degree higher than pre-industrial times, future ice loss seems inevitable if we fail to reduce carbon emissions.” In some parts of Antarctica, the ice is so thick that it is nearly 16000 feet deep, which means the ice is about three miles thick! Most of the rest of the world’s ice is trapped in glaciers and ice sheets in Greenland, Alaska, and Canada, but those only make up about 2% of the world’s ice sheets volume.
In Canada, rocks that were about 4.03 billion years old were discovered. In Australia, researchers found minerals that dated about 4.3 billion years back. Scientists have been trying to determine a more accurate range for the Earth’s age for over four hundred years. At first, they tried to predict the age based on changing sea levels, but that proved unreliable, as that is a cyclical process more than a gradual one. To more closely determine the Earth’s age, scientists tried dating the oldest rocks that they can find, and meteorites that have smashed into the planet since meteorites and the Earth formed at approximately the same time.
In the early 20th century, they refined the process of radiometric dating – essentially figuring out which elements decay into other features at a predictable rate and using that math to calculate its age backward. What they have found is that the Earth is quite old indeed. It is about 4.54 billion years old, give or take about fifty million years. After the sun formed, remaining debris from the stellar cloud coalesced into the planets, meteors, and asteroids that we know today. This process is currently happening throughout the universe, creating new worlds, possibly some like our Earth.
We all know about the water cycle, but do you remember the rock cycle? When you were in middle school, you probably learned the three main kinds of rocks: igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphosis. The rock cycle roughly goes like this: molten magma inside the Earth’s mantle and comes to the surface through fissures and volcanic eruptions. The rocks that the magma cools into are known as igneous. As the igneous rocks from the explosions, like pumice and obsidian, erode and break down, they become transformed into sedimentary rocks, like sandstone. As layers of sedimentary rocks get pushed down and heated, they turn into metamorphosis rocks.
They can continue to get pushed down into the mantle and get spewed out as igneous. All that is to say, the cycle forms old rocks into new rocks. Another version of the planet “recycling” itself is crustal recycling. Though the terminology for this process can become quite cumbersome, the process itself is more or less straightforward: the interaction between the land and water on the Earth’s crust causes rocks to be heated, changed, melted, or eroded. Sediment is then transported and deposited, where it is impacted by whichever elements (buried, compressed, or lithified, for example) until it goes through the cycle all over again.
There are seven continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. The largest, both by landmass and population, is Asia. The smallest continent by size is Australia, but Antarctica is the fifth-largest. This icy continent contains 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of its freshwater. Though Antarctica is significant, it doesn’t have any permanent population. Other than the wildlife that thrives in its extreme cold, it is populated only by international teams of scientists, who stay on research bases. There have been squabbles over who will get first dibs on its mineral resources as the ice continues to melt.
Antarctica is our southernmost continent and contains the geographic South Pole. Its name is derived from the Greek word meaning “opposite to the Arctic,” or “opposite to the North.” Climate-wise, it is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, with the highest average elevation of all continents. It’s called a “polar desert,” as we have mentioned previously, so it’s not exactly an ideal living place. Interestingly, it was the last region on Earth to be discovered; it was not recorded in history until as late as 1820 when a Russian expedition found one of its ice shelves.
You, like many others, may have a hard time telling stalactites from stalagmites. Here’s a helpful trick to remember: G for Ground and C for Ceiling. Now, onto the real facts! Stalagmites build upon the floors of caves because of minerals that get deposited, usually from dripping water. Their cousins are stalactites, which grow on caves’ roofs when dripping water leaves minerals behind, which accrue into the spiky formations. They only form in specific conditions when the pH conditions are suitable, which is why they’re not found in every cave. They shouldn’t be touched because skin oils can alter the surface tension of the formation’s growth and can even stain the formation’s coloring.
Stalactites and stalagmites are usually only a couple of feet in height. However, at the Cuevo San Martin Infierno cave in Cuba, spelunkers found a stalagmite that measures 220 feet tall! Unfortunately, the Cuevo San Martin Infierno cave is not open to the public. If you still need a stalagmite and stalactite cave to scratch that itch, try the Jeita Grotto in Lebanon. That’s where you’ll find the world’s largest stalactite! The grotto is a system of two interconnected caves spanning a length of nearly nine kilometers. The lower cave can only be explored with a boat because it channels an underground river that provides fresh drinking water to over 20% of the Lebanese population!
At this point, you’re already familiar with Death Valley, an immense desert where scientists have recorded the hottest temperature ever. However, you may not know that it has a unique area called Racetrack Playa, aptly named for the rocks that seem to race each other. A playa means a dry lakebed, and this one is best known for its strange moving rocks. About ten thousand years ago, the region experienced severe climate changes, which resulted in the lake evaporating and leaving thick mud at least 1,000 feet thick. The desert there is quite fragile, and tracks from the rocks or even tire tracks can remain visible for years after they are made.
The playa is surrounded by mountains, which receive snow in the winter that melts, sending slippery, ice-covered rocks into the playa. When conditions are just right, a windstorm can sweep through and cause the slippery rocks to slide across the surface of the playa. Some of them weigh hundreds of pounds and leave behind tracks to show just how far the wind brought them. Some of the moving rocks have traveled as far as 1,500 feet, though they can sit for a decade or more without moving. Scientists have even set up GPS tracking to monitor the rocks’ movement and learn more about this crazy phenomenon!
What sets Mount Everest apart is that its summit is the highest above sea level, making it the world’s highest place. However, if you ask what the highest mountain on Earth is, you might get a few different answers. Mount Everest is just over 29,000 feet from base to summit, making it an infant compared to Mauna Loa, one of the Hawaiian Islands’ volcanoes. Mauna Loa is nearly twice as high as Everest, reaching 56,000 feet. Most of Mauna Loa is underwater, as its highest point is only 13,680 feet above sea level. The mountain is so massive that it has warped the seafloor’s base into an inverted cone because it applies so much pressure.
Another option is Mount Chimborazo, whose peak is the furthest point on Earth from the center. The summit is 20,548, making it over 6,800 feet farther from the Earth’s center than Mount Everest’s summit. This mountain is not a mountain – it’s a stratovolcano in central Ecuador. So the answer to the question of “highest mountain” really depends on a lot of variables and qualifiers. Do you measure from sea level, from the base of the mountain, or the center of the Earth? You’ll get a different answer based on your criteria!
We’ve heard of killer bees, but killer lakes? Nyos, Monoun, and Kivu are all water bodies formed in the craters of active volcanoes, but these aren’t your average hot springs. Magma in the Earth’s mantle has been putting pressure on the lake beds, causing carbon dioxide from the mantle to seep into the waters. There, it turns into carbonic acid, which can explode and kill any passerby. Usually, the gases would just bubble out, but Lake Kivu is so deep at 1,500 feet that the pressure underwater dissolves the gas before it can escape. The mixture of liquefied gas and saltier water increases the water’s density in the lake, creating layers of different thicknesses that don’t mix. The CO2 methane that is trapped in the deep layers worries scientists, mostly because of what happened with Lake Nyos.
Lake Nyos, which is located in Cameroon, was the site of the only known natural event that caused large-scale asphyxiation. In August 1986, a landslide was suspected of causing the lake to emit a large cloud of carbon dioxide that caused an estimated 1800 nearby villagers to suffocate. Events like this are called limnic eruptions, and scientists are worried that Kivu is a disaster waiting to happen, mainly because of its size. In fact, scientists have discovered evidence of one previous limnic event at Kivu between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago. Since the Lake Nyos incident, degassing tubes have been placed inside the lake to keep the carbon dioxide levels checked.
The Earth is often called a blue marble by astronauts because of the prevalence of water on its surface. Though humans can only live on land or in a highly modified marine environment (like in a submarine, and even then only temporarily), the vast majority of the Earth is water, not land. About 71% of the planet is water, and most of that is the saltwater found in the oceans. As we’ve discussed in other entries, 96.5% of the Earth’s water is contained within the oceans, while the remaining 3.5% of the water is freshwater and frozen water.
Not only is the Earth covered in water, but there is water below the surface as well. You may have heard of Pangea, the giant supercontinent from which all of our present-day continents derived. There was also once Panthalassa, a superocean that held all of the water that is now dispersed in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic Oceans. Some scientists believe that water was brought to Earth by icy comets and asteroids that collided with the Earth some 4.6 million years ago. The surface of the Earth as a baby was initially just an ocean of magma!
Earth is continuously being bombarded by comets and meteorites, most of which are relatively small and burn up in the atmosphere. Every single day, 100 tons of cosmic dust, most of it from these space rocks that disintegrate, descends on the Earth in the form of interplanetary fairy dust. NASA collects many of these particles for study. Why? Because they reveal much about what is going on in our solar system. Most of the particles fall safely to the ground, entirely unbeknownst to us. This dust is full of the minerals that compose much of the Earth’s surface, so we welcome it.
Most cosmic dust particles are minuscule, measuring between a few molecules and a few micrometers in size. Larger ones are called meteoroids, which is something we’re usually more familiar with. This cosmic dust, or space dust, can cause zodiacal light in the Solar System. This dust includes comet dust, asteroidal dust, and interstellar dust. They all contain complex organic compounds that can reveal necessary information about phenomena like the Solar System formation. The dust grains are irregularly shaped, with their porosity ranging from fuzzy to compact. It’s fun to think about fluffy cosmic dust.
The Hawaiian Islands are a chain of volcanoes, most of which are still active. There are six active volcanos on the Islands of Hawaii and Maui being monitored by the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. Mount Kilauea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Mauna Kea, Loihi, and Haleakala. These are not the explosive volcanoes that can kill vast swathes of people and cause the global climate to shift. No, these volcanoes erupt quietly and sometimes continually, and they are always adding land to the islands. In fact, each island is made of one or more volcanoes that first erupted on the ocean floor and eventually emerged above sea level.
Mount Kilauea in Hawaii is the most active volcano in the world, spewing out the most lava. It erupted continuously from 1983 to 2018 along the volcano’s East Rift Zone. From 2008 – 2018, there was a lava lake at the volcano’s summit. Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano, has erupted 33 times since 1843. The latest eruption lasted over three weeks and produced lava flows within 5 miles of Hilo, the largest population center in Hawaii. However, Mount Stromboli, off the coast of southern Italy, has been blowing smoke nearly continuously for nearly 2000 years. Both Stromboli and Mount Kilauea have been the site of human habitation for a long time.
Next time you consider cutting down some trees, stop and think that trees are the lungs of the Earth. They breathe in carbon dioxide, the by-product of our own respiration, and exhale oxygen – our polar opposites in that sense. Of course, they use oxygen when they break down glucose to release energy and power their metabolism, but their production is more than their intake. They are regularly cleaning the air and making it safe and healthy for other animals and us. Deforestation is one of the biggest drivers of climate change, as it removes our planet’s lungs and replaces them with artificial structures, usually made of cement, which absorbs heat.
If we want to continue having a world to live in, we need to preserve our trees better and plant new ones. If you’re interested in relevant math, it has been determined that it takes about seven or eight trees worth each year to produce enough oxygen for one person. Think about the number of people on the planet, and imagine how many trees we genuinely need for better quality air. Not all trees are created equal, though; Douglas firs, spruces, true firs, beech trees, and maple trees are among the top oxygen-producing trees. That is primarily due to their leafiness; it has been determined that oxygen release is proportional to overall leaf mass.
General Sherman is a giant sequoia in California, and it is 52,500 cubic feet in size. It is the largest tree in the world measured by volume, and for a long time, it was the largest thing in the world. However, in 1992, a giant mushroom took the title for the most incredible living thing in existence. It took up a whopping 2200 acres in the state of Oregon’s Malheur National Forest! Interestingly, someone discovered it because trees were dying off in the forest, so a team from the US Forest Service decided to investigate the cause.
They soon determined that most of the trees in the area had been infected with the fungus. Its age had been calculated to be somewhere between 1,900 and 8,650 years old! Even after the fungus killed a tree, the tree could remain standing for years before toppling. The humongous mega fungus was a collection of mushroom shoots that were all connected to one central organism. They were probably either cloned or directly related, but there is a slight chance that they were not clones. Still, a 2200-acre mushroom is impressive either way. If this piques your interest, check out the Pando organism in Utah.
Seeing just how impressive our planet makes us want to believe that there is no place like home. However, that is most likely not true. Scientists have been discovering exoplanets are planets outside the confines of our solar system. Moreover, they have found some that may be remarkably similar to Earth. We should be pleased to know that there may be other Earth-like planets out there because life is too precious to be confined to one small corner of our solar system. Also, the presence of other earth-like planets does not make our home any less unique.
The “habitable zone” is the distance from a star at which liquid water could exist on orbiting planets’ surfaces – basically where conditions are right for life. Life on other planets may not be anything like what we can fathom, but it makes sense to start with something familiar. Since our star, the sun, has nurtured life on our planet for over 4 billion years, it makes sense that the same conditions could be replicated elsewhere. Scientists have found nearly two thousand alien planets since they’ve started looking, and there is an abundance of small, rocky worlds like our own little Earth. Of these 2,000 planets, there are six planets that NASA considers “similar” to Earth: Gliese 667Cc, Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62f, Kepler-186f, and Kelpler-452b. The last one is the most Earth-like so far, according to scientists.
Earth is the only planet in the solar system with plate tectonics. The outer crust of the Earth is broken up into regions known as tectonic plates. There are seven or eight major plates (depending on the criteria) and many minor plates. These are floating on top of the magma interior of the Earth and can move against one another. When two plates collide, one plate will go underneath the other, and where they pull apart, they will allow a fresh crust to form. This process is vital for a variety of reasons.
Not only does it lead to geological activity such as earthquakes, mountain-building, and oceanic trench formation, but it also is intrinsic to the carbon cycle. When microscopic plants in the ocean die, they fall to the bottom of the sea. Over long periods, the remnants of this life, rich in carbon, are carried back to the Earth’s interior and recycled. That pulls carbon out of the atmosphere, ensuring that we do not suffer a runaway greenhouse effect. Without the actions of plate tectonics, there would be no way to recycle this carbon, and the Earth would become an overheated place.
9. Although many people believe Earth is round, it is almost a sphere, but not entirely!
Some people indeed think the Earth is flat. Although we really didn’t know at one point, it is easy to prove that the Earth isn’t flat. So, it is safe to say that many people tend to think that Earth is a sphere. However, thanks to modern astronomy and space travel, scientists have since understood that Earth is shaped like a flattened sphere or an oblate spheroid. This shape is similar to a sphere, but the poles are flattened, and the equator bulges. In the case of the Earth, this bulge is due to our planet’s rotation.
That means that the measurement from pole to pole is about 43 km less than Earth’s diameter across the equator. The feature that is the furthest from the center of the Earth is Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Keep reading to find out more amazing facts about the planet Earth. You can discover what the planet is made of, how much water it has, and more.
8. Iron, oxygen, and silicon comprise the Earth — mostly.
To better understand the Earth’s components, you should also understand the basics of the Earth’s layers. The ocean basins and continents make up the âcrust’ layer, which is the Earth’s outermost layer. It varies between three and 46 miles deep. If you could separate the Earth into piles of material, you would have four main components: iron, oxygen, silicon, and magnesium. The majority would be iron at 32.1%; the second would be oxygen at 30.1%. Silicon would come in third at 15.1%, and lastly, magnesium at 13.9%.
However, most of this iron is located at the âcore’ of the Earth, which is the innermost layer. The core has two parts: a solid inner core and a liquid outer core. The inner core rotates at a different speed than the rest of the Earth. If you could get down and truly sample the Earth’s core, it would be 88% iron. On the other hand, if you tested the Earth’s crust, you would find that 47% of it is oxygen. The âmantle’ is between the crust and the core. It is about 1800 miles deep and is mostly composed of magnesium and iron. When this mantle layer is pushed through the crust, we experience volcanoes.
7. Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.
When astronauts first went into space, they looked back at the Earth with human eyes for the first time. Based on their observations, the Earth acquired the nickname the “Blue Planet.” The nickname came as no surprise seeing how 70 percent of our planet is covered with oceans. In fact, our planet looks blue from outer space because of this vast amount of water. Ironically, our human bodies are also comprised of water. In fact, the body has about 50 to 70 percent of water — just like Earth!
The remaining 30 percent is the solid crust located above sea level. That is why scientists call it the continental crust. Underneath the water that fills the oceans and the dirt and plants covering the continents, the Earth’s surface is made of rock. The rocky layer under the Earth’s soil is called the crust which comprises the continents and ocean basins. Keep reading to discover how thick the Earth’s atmosphere really is. And what does that mean for us.
6. Earth’s atmosphere is thickest within the first 30 miles from the surface.
Although the atmosphere is thickest within the first miles from the surface, it reaches over 6,000 miles into space. It comprises five main layers – the Troposphere, the Stratosphere, the Mesosphere, the Thermosphere, and the Exosphere. The Troposphere starts at the Earth’s surface and ends about 9 miles out. That is the densest part of the atmosphere, and this is where we experience all weather. The Stratosphere starts right after the Troposphere and extends to about 31 miles high. It is where you’ll find the ozone layer, which scatters UV radiation and protects us from the sun’s rays. The Mesosphere starts next and ends at about 53 miles away from the Earth’s surface. That is where meteors burn up.
The Thermosphere is the next layer and is a larger layer that extends out to 372 miles! It is where satellites orbit and where you’ll see auroras. The Ionosphere overlaps the Mesosphere and extends to the edge of space at about 600 miles. That is the layer that makes radio communication possible. As a rule, air pressure and density decrease the higher one goes into the atmosphere and the farther one is from the surface. The bulk of the Earth’s atmosphere is down near the Earth itself. The Exosphere merges with the emptiness of outer space, where there is no atmosphere and is composed of low densities of hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.
5. The Earth’s molten iron core creates a magnetic field.
Have you ever thought about the Earth’s core? Or how magnetic fields work? You know all of these things exist, but do you understand them? After all, our planet is quite amazing! The Earth is like a giant magnet, with poles at the top and bottom near the actual geographic poles. The magnetic field it creates extends thousands of miles from the Earth’s surface and forms a region called the magnetosphere. Scientists think this magnetic field is generated by the molten outer core of the Earth, where heat creates convection methods of conducting materials to generate electric currents.
Without the magnetosphere, particles from the sun’s solar wind would hit Earth directly, exposing the planet’s surface to significant amounts of radiation. Instead, the magnetosphere channels the solar wind around the Earth, protecting us from harm. Thank goodness for those fields. Certain things happen to us every single day without us even realizing it. Keep reading to learn how long a day — and year — truly is on Earth!
4. Earth does not take 24 hours to rotate on its axis.
Try to stay in your seat for this fantastic science fact about the Earth. You might not even believe it, but you should check the sources. It takes 23 hours, 56 minutes, and just over four seconds for the Earth to rotate once completely on its axis, referred to as a Sidereal Day. You might think that this makes a day four minutes shorter than we think it is. You may also question how day after day and within a few months, that day would be night, and night would be a day.
However, Earth orbits around the sun. Every day, the sun moves compared to the background stars by about one degree. Suppose you add up that little motion from the sun that we see because the Earth is orbiting around it and rotating on its axis. You get a total of 24 hours. People call this particular day Solar Day. Keep reading to learn how this affects the rest of the calendar. After all, if a day isn’t a full 24 hours then a month can’t be what it is, right? What about the entire year? Is it still 365 days? It’s time you learn the truth about our marvelous planet.
3. The Earth completes one orbit every 365.242199 solar days.
There are 365 days in a year. This is common knowledge, right? You probably even learned that fact when you were a child in school. Ever since the 16th century, scientists have worked tirelessly to understand the relationship of how the Earth revolves around the sun. While most years are calculated for 365 days, the extra .242199 is a fact that goes a long way towards explaining why we need an extra calendar day every four years, aka during a leap year. The planet’s distance from the sun varies as it orbits.
The Earth is never the same distance from the sun from day today. If the year is divisible by 400, then it is a leap year. The exception to this rule is if the year in question is divisible by 100. Keep reading to learn more about the Earth’s moon. Do you know about the moon’s two co-orbital satellites? It’s time you learn more so you can share your knowledgeable information with your friends and family. You can impress them with your science smarts!
2. Earth has one moon and two co-orbital satellites.
While many people know and understand that the Earth has one moon, did you know that two additional asteroids are locked into co-orbital orbits with Earth? People call them 3753 Cruithne and 2002 AA. They belong to a larger population of asteroids — Near-Earth Objects (NEOs). Scientists also refer to them as Earth Trojans. Experts sometimes call the asteroid 3753 Cruithne is as Earth’s second moon. But it doesn’t actually orbit the Earth but is even following its own distinct path around the sun. However, 2002 AA is making a horseshoe orbit around the Earth that brings it close to the planet every 95 years.
Other small, natural objects in orbit around the sun may enter orbit around Earth for a short period, making them temporary natural satellites until they exit our orbit. The only confirmed examples of this have been 2006 RH120 during 2006 and 2007 and 2020 CD3 between 2018 and 2020. There are also objects called “quasi-satellites.” The difference between them and standard satellites is that the orbit of a satellite of Earth depends on the Earth-Moon system’s gravity. In contrast, the quasi-satellite’s trajectory would not change if the Earth-Moon system were removed because it is orbiting the sun.
1. The world boasts several million species of life, living in habitats from the bottom of the deepest ocean to a few miles from the atmosphere.
While there has been past discovered evidence of water and organic molecules on Mars and building blocks of life on Saturn’s moon, Titan, Earth is the only known planet to have life. Scientists have speculated about the possible existence of life beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan. As we’ve discussed, scientists have even looked for other planets that look like they could support similar life forms, perhaps in some search of connection. They also look for chemical combinations that could signal alien life: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, sulfur, and hydrogen.
However, Earth remains the only confirmed place of life. Scientists are building experiments that will help find life on other planets if it exists. For instance, giant radio dishes currently scan distant stars, listening for intelligent life’s characteristic signals reaching out across interstellar space. NASA’s entire exoplanet program is to find life signs on a planet other than Earth, though this could take decades if not longer. One promising landmark in the search is the James Webb Space Telescope, launching this year! The Webb will be the largest, most powerful space telescope ever built and launched into space. Scientists hope that it could pick up signs of an atmosphere like ours, so keep your fingers crossed!