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Part VIII : Introduction to the Earth

The Earth

Part IX : Climates and Biomes Index

Weather and Climate
Biomes
The Environment : The Atmosphere
Is there life on Mars?
Hydrosphere, Lithosphere and Biosphere

Topic Chapters Index

 

Greenhouse in Bristol, UK © Shirley Burchill

THE EARTH

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The Greenhouse Effect

The ability of the atmosphere to retain heat and keep the planet warm at night is due to the greenhouse effect. Greenhouses, sometimes called hothouses, are used to keep plants warm so they will grow better. The reason a greenhouse stays warm is because light can get in, but heat cannot get out. Sunlight comes into the greenhouse and warms up the interior. Heat tries to escape but is held inside by the glass.

An atmosphere around a planet works in the same way a greenhouse works. Instead of using glass, atmospheres use gases to let in light and retain heat.

The Earth has an atmosphere which uses the greenhouse effect to maintain an average temperature of about 15°C. Fluctuations in temperature between night and day are rarely more than ten or twenty degrees.

 

Drawing to illustrate how heat is held in the atmosphere © Shirley Burchill,

 

There is no greenhouse effect on the Moon because the Moon has no atmosphere. As a result, the daytime temperatures can be as high as 170°C but temperatures go below freezing every night.

 

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