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Published by: AttiqBhayo on Mar 06, 2010
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04/21/2011

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The Earth formed simultaneously with the other Solar System planets and thecentral Sun. Accretion of planetesimals produced a large body which assumed aspherical shape. Probably cool at the outset, this proto-Earth rapidly heated up,formed its metallic core within 100 million years, and was subjected tocontinuous impact bombardment by asteroids, comets, and meteories. It may have had a molten exterior which quickly cooled to a crust. Very early in earthhistory, its Moon was produced from a glancing collision with another planetlikebody. A second period of bombardment helped destroy the early crust. By about 3.8 billion years ago, rocks that survived until today formed crusts of more silicic rocks embedded in a basaltic crustal layer that extended worldwide. Oceanswere produced early, weathering attacked the crustal rocks, and protocontinentsbegan to form, which probably were moved about by processes akin toconvection-driven plate tectonics. An early atmosphere consisted largely of nitrogen, with some carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane, and water. Thoseingredients may have been converted to organic molecules which in turnorganized into primitive one-celled bacteria about 3.85 b.y. ago. In time, living  plant organisms developed the capability to photosynthesize solar energy,releasing oxygen as an end product, which gas gradually built up to present day levels, allowing more advanced life forms to evolve.
The Earth as a Planet
Earth is the largest of the four inner rocky planets. It almost certainly began toorganize in the earliest days of the Solar System, along with its sister planets,even as the Sun itself came into being as a ball of hydrogen-helium gas mixedwith heavier elements. Some of the gas and much solids - mostly dust size -remained outside the central region of the gas-dust "cloud" that comprised theprotostar system that evolved into the present day Solar System. The bestestimate of when this all began, based on meteorite age data (in which theprimitive meteorites are assumed to record the accumulation of the dust withinthe local cloud that gathered into small objects), is between 4.55 and 4.6 billionyears ago. The Earth started to organize soon thereafter.This illustration follows one of several similar models that describe theseformative phases, as applied both to Earth and to the planetary system as awhole:
 
Possible source: Indiana UniversityThe upper left panel shows the local gas-dust cloud as initially cold, but withsome heating as it contracts (upper right). The middle left panel suggests that thecloud has now contracted into a protoplanetary disk, within which light H and Hegases are drawn mainly to its center, where this material contracts rapidly intothe early Sun. The bottom two panels indicate that material in the disk hasseparated into rings of denser materials which begin to heat up as their constituents are swept up into ever larger bodies that collect enough solids andgases to build into individual planets that gravitationally rework the hot solids(probably with partial to nearly complete melting) into spheres. In the abovemodel, the Sun itself fully formed later in the contraction-ring developmentprocess.An actual example of a star-forming gas/dust cloud is shown in the Hubble SpaceTelescope image of a nearby nebula:
 
Beyond the forming Sun, solids start out mainly as dust-sized particles thatcollide and accrete into larger (meters range) bodies. Many of those further interact to grow into bodies in the kilometers range, which are called"planetesimals". The asteroids are an example.Painting courtesy W.K. Hartmann; copyrightCollisions persist, with some bodies growing larger than most others, until theyreach sizes similar to present day planets or planetary cores. Thus, the bigger bodies use their growing gravitational force to attract smaller bodies that collideand accrete onto the increasingly larger bodies. The Sun, meanwhile, isorganizing into a gas ball in which contraction raises internal temperatures togreater than 1,000,000 ° C , to the extent that nuclear fusion commences. Theearly Sun had less energy output than it does today. Its surface temperaturesthen were less that at present. The fusion produces a steady solar wind thatdrives particles outward. Most of the original H and He retained at first around theinner planets is pulled off into space, in part because the lower gravity of thesebodies cannot hold on to these low atomic weight gases. The outer planets,being further away, experience less solar wind and retain large amounts of H andHe, giving them more mass and stronger gravitational pull that maintains their thick gas envelopes (including a mix with gases having other compositions).All of this probably took less than 100 million years to accomplish, meaning thatthe planets and Sun are approximately contemporaneous. In the Solar Systemspatial realm, beyond the planets, a large quantity of gas and solids remained.Meteoroids developed from these solids, some remaining at a range of planetesimal sizes (these thus are primitive, carbon-rich and water-bearing,making up the carbonaceous chondrite type of meteorite falling on Earth) withothers enlarging through collisions to 100s of kilometers. Examples of theseplanetesimals are still mostly in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto. While this wasgoing on, much of the dust experienced some degree of melting (from solar energy bursts, electrical discharge, shock waves, radioactivity?) that produced

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