Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the fifth largest in the solar system. Earth's diameter is just a few hundred kilometers larger than that of Venus. The four seasons are a result of Earth's axis of rotation being tilted more than 23 degrees. Oceans at least 4 km deep cover nearly 70 percent of Earth's surface. Fresh water exists in the liquid phase only within a narrow temperature span (0 degrees to 100 degrees Celsius). This temperature span is especially narrow when contrasted with the full range of temperatures found within the solar system. The presence and distribution of water vapor in the atmosphere is responsible for much of Earth's weather. Near the surface, an ocean of air that consists of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and 1 percent other ingredients envelops us. This atmosphere affects Earth's long-term climate and short-term local weather; shields us from nearly all harmful radiation coming from the Sun; and protects us from meteors as well - most of which burn up before they can strike the surface. Satellites have revealed that the upper atmosphere actually swells by day and contracts by night due to solar activity. (Source: NASA Solar Sytem Exploration)
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