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ASTR101: Introduction to Astronomy

Unit 12: The Formation of the Earth   In this unit you will be introduced to our current model for the formation of the solar system, with a particular emphasis on the formation of the earth.  You will learn of the conditions on earth soon after its formation and how those conditions were transformed by geological evolution to its present, life-friendly environment.

Unit 12 Time Advisory
This unit should take approximately 12 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 12.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 12.2: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 12.3: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 12.4: 1 hour

☐    Assessment: 2 hours

Unit12 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to: - Outline the principle features of the nebular hypothesis for the formation of the solar system, including the two additions to this hypothesis made in the twentieth century. - Compare and contrast the present earth with the earth just after it formed and identify the specific geological processes that produced these differences. - List the crucial sequence of events that led from the big bang to the rise of life on earth.

12.1 The Origin of the Solar System   - Reading: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 12: The Formation of the Earth” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 12: The Formation of the Earth” (PDF)

 Instructions: This article provides an overview of the material we
will cover in Unit 12.  Read it carefully, but please don’t think
that you have to fix every single fact into your memory.  What you
should strive for is to be sure that it makes sense to you as you
are reading it and that when you are finished you can briefly
summarize the main points of the reading.  You should read this both
as you start and after you have finished working your way through
the unit.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 45 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Solar Systems in the Making?” Link: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Solar Systems in the Making?” (HTML)

    Instructions: This article is a follow-up to the previous one and discusses observation suggesting solar system-like formations in other parts of the galaxy.

    Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Web Media: YouTube: TheUniverseUnfolded’s “The Solar System: A Brief Glance” Link: YouTube: TheUniverseUnfolded’s “The Solar System: A Brief Glance” (YouTube)

    Instructions: This video is an overview of the solar system.

    Watching this video should take approximately 10 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

12.2 The Age of the Earth   - Reading: United States Geological Survey: “Age of the Earth” Link: United States Geological Survey: “Age of the Earth” (HTML)

 Instructions: This article describes how the age of the earth has
been determined by radiometric methods.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: The Evolution Evidence Page: “Radiometric Dating” Link: The Evolution Evidence Page: “Radiometric Dating” (HTML)

    Instructions: This is a more detailed treatment of determining the age of the earth than the previous article.

    Reading this article should take approximately 20 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

12.3 The Geological Evolution of the Earth   12.3.1 The Chemical Differentiation of the Earth’s Interior   - Reading: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Geological Differentiation” Link: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Geological Differentiation” (HTML)

 Instructions: This article is a brief description of chemical
differentiation.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 10 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Northwestern College: Tom Franke’s “The Iron Catastrophe” Link: Northwestern College: Tom Franke’s “The Iron Catastrophe” (HTML)

    Instructions: This is a description of chemical differentiation and includes a chart of element abundance of the whole earth compared to that of the crust.

    Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

12.3.2 The Formation of the Earth’s Oceans   - Web Media: YouTube: National Geographic’s “Origins of Oceans” Link: YouTube: National Geographic’s “Origins of Oceans” (YouTube)

 Instructions: This video explains the origins of the oceans.  

 Watching this video should take approximately 5 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: Duke University: The Simon Research Group’s “How Did the Oceans Form?” Link: Duke University: The Simon Research Group’s “How Did the Oceans Form?” (HTML)

    Instructions: This article complements the previous video.

    Reading this article should take approximately 10 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

12.3.3 The Formation of the Earth’s Atmosphere   - Reading: Eastern Illinois University: John P. Stimac’s “Origin of the Earth’s Atmosphere” Link: Eastern Illinois University: John P. Stimac’s “Origin of the Earth’s Atmosphere” (HTML)

 Instructions: This article complements the previous link.  The last
section is on “Atmospheric Structure,” which we will not discuss in
this course.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above. 
  • Reading: National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s SciJinks: “How Did Earth’s Atmosphere Form?” Link: National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s SciJinks: “How Did Earth’s Atmosphere Form?” (HTML)

    Instructions: This article describes the three types of atmosphere that developed over time on Earth.

    Reading this article should take approximately 10 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

12.3.4 Plate Tectonics   - Reading: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Evidence for Plate Tectonics” Link: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Evidence for Plate Tectonics” (HTML)

 Instructions: This article is a follow-up to the previous one and
discusses the evidence for plate tectonics.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.  

 Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use
displayed on the webpage above.
  • Reading: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Consequences of Plate Tectonics” Link: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Consequences of Plate Tectonics” (HTML)

    Instructions: This is another follow-up to the two previous articles, this time listing some consequences of tectonic activity.

    Reading this article should take approximately 10 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

  • Reading: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Plate Tectonics” Link: The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Department of Physics and Astronomy: “Plate Tectonics” (HTML)

    Instructions: This article provides an introduction to plate tectonics.

    Reading this article should take approximately 15 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

  • Web Media: YouTube: National Geographic’s “The Early Earth and Plate Tectonics” Link: YouTube: National Geographic’s “The Early Earth and Plate Tectonics” (YouTube)

    Instructions: This video is an overview of the geological evolution with the emphasis on plate tectonics.

    Watching this video should take approximately 5 minutes.

    Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.

12.4 The Origin of the Moon   - Reading: The University of Arizona: H. Jay Melosh’s “Origin of the Moon” The Saylor Foundation does not yet have materials for this portion of the course. If you are interested in contributing your content to fill this gap or aware of a resource that could be used here, please submit it here.

[Submit Materials](/contribute/)
  • Assessment: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 12 Assessment” Link: The Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 12 Assessment” (PDF)

    Instructions: When you have finished the entire unit, please complete this assessment without referring to the readings.  When you are finished with the assessment, you can check your answers against the Saylor Foundation’s “Unit 12 Assessment – Answer Key” (PDF).

    Completing this assessment should take approximately 2 hours.