Our planet is amazing. Orbiting around the sun at a whopping speed of 107,218 km/h, that’s pretty fast for such a big body – and though Earth can’t step on a scale – NASA calculates its mass at 5,972,190,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg (five septillion, nine hundred seventy two sextillion, one hundred ninety quintillion kilograms).
However, our planet is continually gaining and losing mass. We take on an estimated 40,000 tonnes of space dust that the earth’s gravity pulls in like a giant vacuum – this dust is vestiges of our solar system, broken up asteroids and the matter that never turned into planets. But we lose mass largely due to gases (farting earth drawing).
Gases like hydrogen are so light that they are escaping through the atmosphere at a rate of 3 kg per second – that’s 95,000 tonnes a year. But what about us? The human population in 1987 was 5 billion and it is now estimated at 7.6 billion! Do our bodies and all the structures we put on the surface of the earth affect the mass of the planet? No, because we are actually made up of existing matter on the planet. That matter is atoms – and we’ve been able to identify 118 different kinds (elements) but what makes up 90% of us is just 3 elements: oxygen (65%), carbon (18.5%) and hydrogen (9.5%). Two of those elements make up the liquid vital for life: water.
Our oceans cover 70% of the planet. At its deepest depth the Mariana Trench is measured at 10,994m – for context if you put the base of Mount Everest at the bottom of the Trench, the peak would still be 1.6km underwater. Our oceans are still largely a mystery – with only 5% of it explored. With more knowledge we could better understand how the Deep-Sea Octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) had the longest egg-brooding period ever recorded (pregnancy).
This committed mama located in Monterey Bay wrapped her arms around her 160 plus eggs, protecting them for 53 months without eating the entire time, how she survived so long is still a mystery. Similarly inspiring – the bowhead whale can live to be 150-200 years old! In 2007, a Bowhead whale was found swimming with an arrow-shaped harpoon fragment embedded in its blubber from hunters from over a century ago. But the oldest animal is the antarctic glass sponge and is estimated to be 15,000 years old – that’s older than the pyramids, older than the wheel. Meanwhile on land, the Bristlecone pine is the oldest living individual tree at 5067 years.
But ‘The Pando’, a clonal colony of 40,000 genetically identical quaking aspens in Utah is estimated at 80,000 years old and is considered all one tree! Plants, have a myriad of strategies to defend themselves.
A recent study revealed that some cope with being eaten by setting off a molecular chain of events that causes them to grow back bigger, produce more seeds, and increase chemical defenses. Meanwhile, the pebble toad defends itself from predators by tightening all of its muscles turning it essentially into a rubber ball that can bounce down mountains out of harm’s way.
When the pistol shrimp wants a snack they simply snap its claw to shoot out ‘cavitation bubbles’ to stun/kill their prey. These bubbles are the formation of vapour cavities in water that happen due to the rapid pressure change. When these bubbles collapse, they generate temperatures of 8000 degrees fahrenheit – roughly the same temperature as the sun’s surface. Speaking of heat – the bacteria Thermophilus aquaticus can live in scalding hot environments and can survive temps of 80 °C (176 °F). For most organisms, the bonds holding together the proteins we are made of begin to denature around 45°C, causing the proteins to lose their shape and functionality.
The Thermophilus aquaticus gets around this by producing heat tolerant enzymes that increase the number of bonds that hold the protein together. At the other extreme, our planet can be frigid, −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F) being the lowest recorded temperature. Animals cope with winter in different ways. Where bears choose to sleep slowing their heart rate to 10 beats per minute. While the tiny red-toothed shrew will shrink their own heads, reducing their skull and brain mass by as much as 20 percent as a means to conserve energy.
How we survive is one thing – but what we contribute to the planet is also significant. Though it may seem obvious to you that animals like your cats and dogs have unique personalities, several scientists had long rejected the idea. Now there are confirmed surveys to measure the unique personalities of chimps which are a product of natural selection. All of this action occurs on the earth’s crust which by volume only makes up 1% of the earth. There’s a lot of life on our amazing pale blue dot.