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Portrait of wondrous Earth: revelatory, awe-inspiring. Nature, staggering in diversity & remarkable in precision


By WcP.Poetic.Thought - Posted on 05 December 2008

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Ice

(quote)

Ice
The residue of an ice storm glazes a beech tree, pushing its branches to a near-breaking point. Ice storms are formed when two layers of cold air (one near the earth's surface, another far above) sandwich between them a tier of warm air. Precipitation from the top layer starts out as snow, but when it falls into the middle, warmer belt, it melts into rain. Then, on its way through the lowest belt, it undergoes a little-understood process known as "supercooling" which causes it to chill well below the freezing point of water, yet still remain liquid. When this unnaturally cold water hits the ground, it instantaneously freezes into a translucent glaze that takes on, in intricate detail, the shape of whatever it surrounds.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Clouds

Clouds
Water is a shape shifter: familiar in its liquid and frozen forms, it is invisible in its third form, as a vapor, until it coalesces into clouds overhead or shrouds us in ghostly fog. One of nature's everyday wonders, clouds hide in plain sight until they are touched with the sun's glory at sunrise and sunset or pile up to form a lightning-generating, anvil-headed cumulonimbus thundercloud.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - The Sun

The Sun
A NASA camera captures the eruption of a giant solar prominence — a burst of the ionized gases, or plasma, that make up the surface of the sun. Some solar flares are hundreds of thousands of miles long, so vast they could straddle the distance between the Earth and the moon.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Snowflake

Snowflake
We've all heard that no two snowflakes are identical. The notion may be more poetic than scientific, but it effectively makes its point: that nature is both staggering in its diversity and remarkable in its precision. The geometry of snowflakes is a reminder that nature's actions, however unpredictable at times, are governed by basic laws of physics and mathematics.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Cavern

Cavern
Ice caverns like this one in Iceland may resemble caverns of rock, but they are, fact, quite different. While stone caves may take eons to form, cathedral-sized galleries of ice can be carved within glaciers by meltwater in years or even months. And unlike rooms gouged from solid rock, glacier caves can disappear even faster than they were formed. Stone caverns rarely collapse, but ice caves are always vulnerable to cave-in. Veteran glacier spelunkers, or glaciospeleologists, as they call themselves, tell of striking walls inside an ice cave with a hammer to anchor a rope, only to watch a crack hundreds of feet long appear with lightning-fast speed.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Formation

Formation
Ireland's Giant's Causeway is constructed of 40,000 basalt columns. Most of them are hexagons, but there are also columns with four, five, seven and eight sides, clustering in a honeycomb pattern and thrusting as high as 36 ft. into the air. They were formed following volcanic eruptions around 50-60 million years ago, when molten basaltic lava cooled, then fractured along strict mathematical lines as it hardened, forming straight edges as sharp as those seen in quartz formations. Giant's Causeway was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Geyser

Geyser
Like volcanoes and earthquakes, geysers and hot springs open windows onto the potent forces hidden beneath the skin of the planet. Fly Geyser, above, lies in the geyser-rich region around Black Rock Desert in Nevada, the dry bed of an ancient lake. This formation is in part man-made: farmers drilling for water in 1916 tapped into a hydrothermal aquifer that flooded the area. In the 1960s the geyser itself began spouting; it does so in a constant stream, unlike geysers such as Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, whose vented water flows back underground, only to be reheated and released on a steady timetable. The cone-shaped spouts above have formed over the years as emitted minerals solidify, and they are still growing.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Sea Life

Sea Life
A pod of narwhals makes its way through an ice passage in the Arctic. The unicorns of the sea, Monodon monoceros are members of the order Cetacea, along with whales, dolphins and porpoises. Unlike baleen whales, which filter small prey from the water, narwhals are toothed whales that feed on small fish. Male narwhals grow a distinctive single tusk, though some female narwhals have one. The tusks grow in a clockwise spiral and can reach almost 10 ft. in length; narwhals themselves are 23 to 26 ft. in length.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Meltwater

Meltwater
Glaciers around the world are melting at a precipitous rate. In some cases, the meltwater can form into flowing streams, like this one in Greenland. The water can also penetrate cracks that run deep within the ice, eventually making its way to the ground, where it acts as a lubricant, causing glaciers to slide more quickly toward the sea.

TIME Planet Earth: An Illustrated History - Limestone

Limestone
A limestone pinnacle at New Zealand’s Cathedral Cove rises from the ocean. Because it is a hard sedimentary rock, limestone is often the last type of stone to erode in landscapes primarily composed of sedimentary rock. its sturdy nature have made it a preferred construction material for centuries. It is the backbone of both the Pyramids and the Parthenon.

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of Ed Darack / Science Faction / Getty, NASA, Martin Ruegner / Image Bank / Getty, Kenneth Libbrecht / Visuals Unlimited / Getty, Tyler Stableford / Getty, John Lawrence / Image Bank / Getty, Scott Sady / America 24-7 / Getty, Wilfried Krecichwost / Image Bank / Getty, Paul Nicklen / National Geographic / Getty, and Uriel Sinai / Getty, Uriel Sinai / Getty

Original Source: Time

The Book: Time Planet Earth: An Illustrated History

We often take nature for granted and never stop to think about the intricate physics that serves as a foundation for so much natural beauty. These examples are so diverse, it's hard to believe they could come from the same planet.

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