This is the View You Get Staring out of the Space Station’s Cupola Module

Those lucky few who have the incredible opportunity to see the Earth from space often report the view gives them a sense of awe, unity and clarity. This perspective-altering experience has come to be known as the Overview Effect, from a book by the same name published 1987 by space philosopher Frank White.

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Did Snowball Earth Happen Because of a Sudden Drop in Sunlight?

Hundreds of millions of years ago, Earth went through two episodes of severe glaciation. These two episodes—the Sturtian and the Marinoan glaciations—occured during the Earth’s Cryogenian Period. The Cryogenian lasted from about 720 million to 635 million years ago.

The phenomenon is called “Snowball Earth” and both instances of it happened in pretty quick succession. And while a planet encased in ice and snow sounds devastating, these episodes may have paved the way for the development of complex life.

The question is, what caused the Earth to freeze over like that?

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Microbes Were Dormant for Over 100 Million Years, But They Were Able to Spring Back to Life

At the bottom of the ocean in the South Pacific Gyre, there’s a sediment layer that is among the most nutrient-starved environments on Earth. Because of conditions in that area, there’s almost no “marine snow”—the shower of organic debris common in the ocean—that falls to the ocean floor. Without all that organic debris falling to the floor, there’s a severe lack of nutrients there, and that makes this one of the least hospitable places on Earth.

A team of researchers took sediment samples from that area, and extracted 101.5 million year old microbes. When they “fed” those microbes, they sprang back to life.

The results are expanding our knowledge of microbial life and how long it can be dormant when conditions force it to be.

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What Cracked the Earth’s Outer Shell and Started its Plate Tectonics?

Earth’s lithosphere is made up of seven large tectonic plates and a number of smaller ones. The theory of plate tectonics that describes how these plates move is about 50 years old. But there’s never really been an understanding of how this system developed, and how the Earth’s shell split into separate plates and started moving.

Now a group of researchers have a possible explanation.

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800 Million Years Ago, it Was Raining Asteroids on the Earth and Moon

Natural processes here on Earth continually re-shape the planet’s surface. Craters from ancient asteroid strikes are erased in a short period of time, in geological terms. So how can researchers understand Earth’s history, and how thoroughly it may have been pummeled by asteroid strikes?

Scientists can turn their attention to our ancient companion, the Moon.

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Even If We Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions Tomorrow, it Would Take Decades for the Earth to Start Cooling Again

Our beautiful, precious, life-supporting Earth as seen on July 6, 2015 from a distance of one million miles by a NASA scientific camera aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft. Credits: NASA

If—or hopefully when—we cut our Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, we won’t notice much difference in the climate. The Earth’s natural systems take time to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. We may have to wait decades for the temperatures to drop.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s just that we have to temper our expectations a little.

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