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: