Every few days, it seems, NASA discovers a new exoplanet that could "potentially" be the next Earth. But the truth is, we'll never find another planet quite like ours, argues Mark Fischetti at Scientific American. While experts are hunting for a hospitable Earth 2.0 that boasts liquid water and human-friendly temperatures, they're ignoring one factor that gives our blue planet its inimitable properties: Plants. Far from being a mere byproduct of Earth's water and soil, our trees and flora helped shape the planet's entire surface. Green life "soaked up all the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere" over 450 million years ago, lowering temperatures enough to let other organisms thrive. And the roots of forests shaped our planet's riverbeds, allowing vegetation to grow while softening the soil for agriculture. Here, Fischetti explains why Earth is truly one of a kind:
Before the era of plants, water ran over Earth's landmasses in broad sheets, with no defined courses. Only when enough vegetation grew to break down rock into minerals and mud, and then hold that mud in place, did river banks form and begin to channel the water. The channeling led to periodic flooding that deposited sediment over broad areas, building up rich soil. The soil allowed trees to take root. Their woody debris fell into the rivers, creating logjams that rapidly created new channels and caused even more flooding, setting up a feedback loop that eventually supported forests and fertile plains. ...
Even if plants do sprout [on another planet], they will evolve differently, crafting a different surface on the orb they call home.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- 10 things you need to know today: November 26, 2014
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- The hilarious hypocrisy of Republicans complaining about the imperial presidency
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- In defense of Gwyneth Paltrow
- Republicans love this new health care plan. Too bad it's basically a tax cut for the rich.
Subscribe to the Week