Earth the Protector

By Tom Yulsman | April 12, 2013 8:02 pm

A screenshot from an animation of a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Click on it and choose from the various options to see the full animation. (Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio)

On Thursday, the sun let loose a massive explosion of billions of tons of solar particles in what scientists call a coronal mass ejection, or CME. You can see a video and a stunning image of the event in my post about it from yesterday.

Today, I found an incredible scientific visualization of a CME, what it does to our poor, unprotected planetary neighbor, Venus, and how Earth’s self-generated magnetic bubble shields us from the mayhem that would otherwise ensue. The image at the top of this post is a screenshot from the visualization. Click on it and you’ll be taken to a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center web page where you can choose which format with which to view the video. It’s narrated, and everything is clearly explained.

The visualization doesn’t stop with the coronal mass ejection sweeping past Earth harmlessly:

Another screenshot from the visualization.

It also takes us on a journey down to the surface for an exploration of atmospheric and ocean currents, and it provides an excellent description of how these components of the climate system redistribute heat around the planet (which ultimately comes from the sun, of course). The image above is a screenshot from that part of the visualization.



CATEGORIZED UNDER: Climate, Oceanography, select, Sun, Top Posts
  • Jack Swayze Sr.

    If the heat of the planet came only from the sun, then we would have an average temperature identical to the average temperature of the moon. Yet we are sufficiently warmer than the moon. This is because a lot of heat comes from the decay of radioactive elements in the Earth’s core.

    • Wil Post

      No, it is because the Earth has an atmosphere whereas our Moon does not. The different layers of Earth’s atmosphere do a good job of trapping heat. The heat of our planet is just from the Sun, or so much of it as to effectively be 100%.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Wil is correct about where almost all of the energy that produces Earth’s climate comes from. (See his comment below.) To flesh it out a bit, solar energy accounts for more than 99% of the total energy budget (above the surface, of course — where we live). Geothermal, which you are referring to, accounts for most of the rest. It is real, but it’s impact on our climate is negligible.

      Wil is also correct that our atmosphere is what makes our planet habitable. The greenhouse effect it provides keeps the average temperature of Earth at the surface at 57 degrees F (14 degrees C). Without the greenhouse effect, it would be about zero degrees F (-18 degrees C).



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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