Even with all its grandeur and majesty, Earth is also just exceptional. Aside from the reality that it’s the only planet acknowledged (so far) to support life, it has many inherent quirks, from geophysical weirdness to the landscapes adorning its cover to the organisms it helps.
The more we examine Earth’s distinctiveness, the more we tend to appreciate and treasure its various wonders—starting with the air we breathe.
1. It Hosts a Humongous Fungus
When it comes to the most significant living things on Earth, it might be effortless to imagine blue whales, elephants, and trees. You may also recall that coral reefs are the giant conglomerates of critters. But the most comprehensive single organism printed is an Armillaria mushroom in Oregon. In 1992, one of these fungi was located in Michigan, covering 37 acres. But more lately, teams investigating a mysterious tree die-off found that the culprit was an even more incredible fungus, incorporating at least 2,000 acres and expected to be thousands of years old. However, the mushrooms themselves explode out of the soil. They’re joined by a tentacular underground web of tissues called mycelia. There’s a possibility the mushroom’s offshoots may not all be complete clones. Still, it looks as though the giant fungus takes this special trophy and tastes excellent with spaghetti).
2. One Island Boasts an “Undersea Waterfall”
The southwest shoreline of Mauritius looks to be teetering on the verge of a plunging, undersea waterfall. But the emerging abyss, and the island’s uncertain position, are just an illusion. Whirling ocean currents carrying silt and sand create the forbidding pattern painted atop a relatively innocuous seafloor. It’s pretty spectacular when viewed from above and can even be seen in Google Earth imagery.
3. The Planet’s Poles Flip
We all understand that North is, well, North—about and above Alaska—and south is down near Antarctica. That will forever be true for the planet’s geographic poles, but it’s only intermittently true for its magnetic poles. Over the former 20 million years, the magnetic poles have flip-flopped each several hundred thousand years or so, implying that if you had a compass in hand approximately 800,000 years ago, it would show you that North occurred in Antarctica. Though scientists are highly sure, Earth’s churning, hot iron core powers these polar acrobatics. It’s not completely clear what triggers the actual reversals. The manner is gradual and transpires over millennia. For now, Earth’s north magnetic pole is crawling northward by about 40 miles a year. And given that the last significant pole reversal happened 780,000 years ago, we are overdue for a flip.
4. Some Parts Are Downright Alien-Looking
Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression is an unusual landscape deserving of the superlatives hurled at it. Hottest. Driest. Meanest. Weirdest. Though boiling springs, poisonous gases, crackling lava lakes, and salty illusions make the Danakil Depression seem like one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, even here, life has found a way. Multicoloured hydrothermal vents are house to ecosystems. Astrobiologists now use analogue to explore life beyond Earth.
5. There Are Sneaked Gems Beneath Your Feet
The gypsum pillars in Mexico’s rightly named Cave of Crystals are the giant natural crystals known. It is buried a thousand feet underground. Some of the beams are in the sweltering cave measure more than 30 feet in length. You might think it difficult for Earth to protect such a glittering crystalline trove, but the cave was only recognized in 2000 when silver miners inadvertently broke in its walls. A likewise magical subterranean treasure, Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong cave—the world’s biggest—remained hidden until lately. Recognized in 1991, the cave host entertainers a lush rain forest and is big enough for a 747 jumbo jet to park within conveniently.
6. Earth Has a Supersized Moon
Few Sundays back, an evening marked the most recent rising of the supermoon. Still, regardless of how long Earth’s moon arrives in the sky on any provided night, it’s always among the solar system’s most excessive satellites. Relative to Earth, it’s enormous, coming in at a quarter as far as our home planet. The only celestial twosome that surpasses the Earth-moon team in this respect is Pluto and its most giant moon Charon, which form more of a binary system—a pair of objects spinning around each other—rather than a standard planet-moon pair. And, thank goodness the moon is so large and so close. If it were smaller or distant away, we would nevermore observe total solar eclipses.
7. One River Is Boiling
Once thought to be the easy stuff of legend, a boiling river is buried deep in the Peruvian Amazon. OK, it’s not boiling, but the river comes within a few degrees of that mark, and it’s still hot enough to transform an already
magical rain forest into a steaming, mystical paradise that can cook clumsily small animals alive. Lately, National Geographic explorer Andrés Ruzo went to the boiling river and restored it with a reason for its effervescence: a tremendous geothermal activity that’s unrelated to volcanoes or oil drilling.
8. Some of Its Clouds Are Alive
Sometimes, at dusk, overcast shape-shifting clouds resemble near the ground. As they swirl and morph, these clouds can seem alive—and it’s because they are. Developed by hundreds or thousands of starlings flying in tandem, the phenomenon is known as a murmuration. Scientists suspect the birds join in this mesmerizing display when they’re looking for a spot to roost or evading predators. But it’s still a puzzle as to how, exactly, they achieve such exquisite acrobatic synchrony on the fly.
9. There’s an Underwater Meadow
After the Greek god Poseidon, the Mediterranean’s most widespread seagrass, named Posidonia, is also considered among the oldest acknowledged living things on Earth. Genetic sequencing recently announced that an expansive Posidonia meadow building off the coast of Spain could be as many as a hundred thousand years old. It signifies that before our modern human ancestors even left Africa, the first of these seagrass shoots were gently putting down roots and beginning a process of cell division and cloning that would survive through the global spread of humankind. One reason that slow-growing Posidonia can last for so long is that it has few natural competitors or predators, except humans, whose exploding populations and poor habitat management are slowly destroying the ancient meadows.