Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material
world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical
world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if
not the only, part of science. Although humans are part of nature,
human activity is often understood as a separate category from other
The word nature is derived from the
Latin word natura, or "essential
qualities, innate disposition", and in ancient times, literally meant
"birth". Natura is a
Latin translation of the Greek word physis
(φύσις), which originally related to the intrinsic
characteristics that plants, animals, and other features of the world
develop of their own accord. The concept of nature as a whole,
the physical universe, is one of several expansions of the original
notion; it began with certain core applications of the word φύσις
by pre-Socratic philosophers, and has steadily gained currency ever
since. This usage continued during the advent of modern scientific
method in the last several centuries.
Within the various uses of the word today, "nature" often refers to
geology and wildlife.
Nature can refer to the general realm of living
plants and animals, and in some cases to the processes associated with
inanimate objects–the way that particular types of things exist and
change of their own accord, such as the weather and geology of the
Earth. It is often taken to mean the "natural environment" or
wilderness–wild animals, rocks, forest, and in general those things
that have not been substantially altered by human intervention, or
which persist despite human intervention. For example, manufactured
objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of
nature, unless qualified as, for example, "human nature" or "the whole
of nature". This more traditional concept of natural things which can
still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the
artificial, with the artificial being understood as that which has
been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind.
Depending on the particular context, the term "natural" might also be
distinguished from the unnatural or the supernatural.
1.1.1 Geological evolution
1.2 Historical perspective
2 Atmosphere, climate, and weather
Water on Earth
5.3 Plants and animals
Aesthetics and beauty
Matter and energy
8 Beyond Earth
9 See also
10 Notes and references
11 External links
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Earliest universe (−13.80)
Omega Centauri forms
Andromeda Galaxy forms
Milky Way Galaxy
spiral arms form
Alpha Centauri forms
Earliest sexual reproduction
Axis scale: billion years
Human timeline and
View of the Earth, taken in 1972 by the crew of Apollo 17.
Earth is the only planet known to support life, and its natural
features are the subject of many fields of scientific research. Within
the solar system, it is third closest to the sun; it is the largest
terrestrial planet and the fifth largest overall. Its most prominent
climatic features are its two large polar regions, two relatively
narrow temperate zones, and a wide equatorial tropical to subtropical
region. Precipitation varies widely with location, from several
metres of water per year to less than a millimetre. 71 percent of the
Earth's surface is covered by salt-water oceans. The remainder
consists of continents and islands, with most of the inhabited land in
the Northern Hemisphere.
Earth has evolved through geological and biological processes that
have left traces of the original conditions. The outer surface is
divided into several gradually migrating tectonic plates. The interior
remains active, with a thick layer of plastic mantle and an
iron-filled core that generates a magnetic field. This iron core is
composed of a solid inner phase, and a fluid outer phase. Convective
motion in the core generates electric currents through dynamo action,
and these, in turn, generate the geomagnetic field.
The atmospheric conditions have been significantly altered from the
original conditions by the presence of life-forms, which create an
ecological balance that stabilizes the surface conditions. Despite the
wide regional variations in climate by latitude and other geographic
factors, the long-term average global climate is quite stable during
interglacial periods, and variations of a degree or two of average
global temperature have historically had major effects on the
ecological balance, and on the actual geography of the Earth.
Main article: Geology
Geology is the science and study of the solid and liquid matter that
constitutes the Earth. The field of geology encompasses the study of
the composition, structure, physical properties, dynamics, and history
Earth materials, and the processes by which they are formed, moved,
and changed. The field is a major academic discipline, and is also
important for mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, knowledge about and
mitigation of natural hazards, some
Geotechnical engineering fields,
and understanding past climates and environments.
Three types of geological plate tectonic boundaries.
The geology of an area evolves through time as rock units are
deposited and inserted and deformational processes change their shapes
Rock units are first emplaced either by deposition onto the surface or
intrude into the overlying rock. Deposition can occur when sediments
settle onto the surface of the
Earth and later lithify into
sedimentary rock, or when as volcanic material such as volcanic ash or
lava flows, blanket the surface. Igneous intrusions such as
batholiths, laccoliths, dikes, and sills, push upwards into the
overlying rock, and crystallize as they intrude.
After the initial sequence of rocks has been deposited, the rock units
can be deformed and/or metamorphosed. Deformation typically occurs as
a result of horizontal shortening, horizontal extension, or
side-to-side (strike-slip) motion. These structural regimes broadly
relate to convergent boundaries, divergent boundaries, and transform
boundaries, respectively, between tectonic plates.
Main articles: History of the
Earth and Evolution
An animation showing the movement of the continents from the
Pangaea until the present day.
Earth is estimated to have formed 4.54 billion years ago from the
solar nebula, along with the
Sun and other planets. The moon
formed roughly 20 million years later. Initially molten, the
outer layer of the
Earth cooled, resulting in the solid crust.
Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere.
Condensing water vapor, most or all of which came from ice delivered
by comets, produced the oceans and other water sources. The highly
energetic chemistry is believed to have produced a self-replicating
molecule around 4 billion years ago.
Plankton inhabit oceans, seas and lakes, and have existed in various
forms for at least 2 billion years.
Continents formed, then broke up and reformed as the surface of Earth
reshaped over hundreds of millions of years, occasionally combining to
make a supercontinent. Roughly 750 million years ago, the
earliest known supercontinent Rodinia, began to break apart. The
continents later recombined to form
Pannotia which broke apart about
540 million years ago, then finally Pangaea, which broke apart
about 180 million years ago.
Neoproterozoic era covered much of the
Earth in glaciers
and ice sheets. This hypothesis has been termed the "Snowball Earth",
and it is of particular interest as it precedes the Cambrian explosion
in which multicellular life forms began to proliferate about
530–540 million years ago.
Cambrian explosion there have been five distinctly
identifiable mass extinctions. The last mass extinction occurred
some 66 million years ago, when a meteorite collision probably
triggered the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and other large
reptiles, but spared small animals such as mammals. Over the past
66 million years, mammalian life diversified.
Several million years ago, a species of small African ape gained the
ability to stand upright. The subsequent advent of human life, and
the development of agriculture and further civilization allowed humans
to affect the
Earth more rapidly than any previous life form,
affecting both the nature and quantity of other organisms as well as
global climate. By comparison, the Great Oxygenation Event, produced
by the proliferation of algae during the
Siderian period, required
about 300 million years to culminate.
The present era is classified as part of a mass extinction event, the
Holocene extinction event, the fastest ever to have occurred.
Some, such as
E. O. Wilson
E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that human
destruction of the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of
all species in the next 100 years. The extent of the current
extinction event is still being researched, debated and calculated by
Atmosphere, climate, and weather
Blue light is scattered more than other wavelengths by the gases in
the atmosphere, giving the
Earth a blue halo when seen from space
Atmosphere of Earth, Climate, and Weather
Earth's atmosphere is a key factor in sustaining the ecosystem.
The thin layer of gases that envelops the
Earth is held in place by
gravity. Air is mostly nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, with much
smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, argon, etc. The atmospheric
pressure declines steadily with altitude. The ozone layer plays an
important role in depleting the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation
that reaches the surface. As
DNA is readily damaged by UV light, this
serves to protect life at the surface. The atmosphere also retains
heat during the night, thereby reducing the daily temperature
Terrestrial weather occurs almost exclusively in the lower part of the
atmosphere, and serves as a convective system for redistributing
Ocean currents are another important factor in determining
climate, particularly the major underwater thermohaline circulation
which distributes heat energy from the equatorial oceans to the polar
regions. These currents help to moderate the differences in
temperature between winter and summer in the temperate zones. Also,
without the redistributions of heat energy by the ocean currents and
atmosphere, the tropics would be much hotter, and the polar regions
Weather can have both beneficial and harmful effects. Extremes in
weather, such as tornadoes or hurricanes and cyclones, can expend
large amounts of energy along their paths, and produce devastation.
Surface vegetation has evolved a dependence on the seasonal variation
of the weather, and sudden changes lasting only a few years can have a
dramatic effect, both on the vegetation and on the animals which
depend on its growth for their food.
Climate is a measure of the long-term trends in the weather. Various
factors are known to influence the climate, including ocean currents,
surface albedo, greenhouse gases, variations in the solar luminosity,
and changes to the Earth's orbit. Based on historical records, the
Earth is known to have undergone drastic climate changes in the past,
including ice ages.
A tornado in central Oklahoma
The climate of a region depends on a number of factors, especially
latitude. A latitudinal band of the surface with similar climatic
attributes forms a climate region. There are a number of such regions,
ranging from the tropical climate at the equator to the polar climate
in the northern and southern extremes.
Weather is also influenced by
the seasons, which result from the Earth's axis being tilted relative
to its orbital plane. Thus, at any given time during the summer or
winter, one part of the
Earth is more directly exposed to the rays of
the sun. This exposure alternates as the
Earth revolves in its orbit.
At any given time, regardless of season, the northern and southern
hemispheres experience opposite seasons.
Weather is a chaotic system that is readily modified by small changes
to the environment, so accurate weather forecasting is limited to only
a few days. Overall, two things are happening worldwide: (1)
temperature is increasing on the average; and (2) regional climates
have been undergoing noticeable changes.
Water on Earth
Iguazu Falls on the border between
Brazil and Argentina
Main article: Water
Water is a chemical substance that is composed of hydrogen and oxygen
and is vital for all known forms of life. In typical usage, water
refers only to its liquid form or state, but the substance also has a
solid state, ice, and a gaseous state, water vapor, or steam. Water
covers 71% of the Earth's surface. On Earth, it is found mostly in
oceans and other large water bodies, with 1.6% of water below ground
in aquifers and 0.001% in the air as vapor, clouds, and
precipitation. Oceans hold 97% of surface water, glaciers, and
polar ice caps 2.4%, and other land surface water such as rivers,
lakes, and ponds 0.6%. Additionally, a minute amount of the Earth's
water is contained within biological bodies and manufactured products.
A view of the Atlantic
Ocean from Leblon, Rio de Janeiro.
Main article: Ocean
An ocean is a major body of saline water, and a principal component of
the hydrosphere. Approximately 71% of the Earth's surface (an area of
some 361 million square kilometers) is covered by ocean, a continuous
body of water that is customarily divided into several principal
oceans and smaller seas. More than half of this area is over 3,000
meters (9,800 feet) deep. Average oceanic salinity is around 35 parts
per thousand (ppt) (3.5%), and nearly all seawater has a salinity in
the range of 30 to 38 ppt. Though generally recognized as several
'separate' oceans, these waters comprise one global, interconnected
body of salt water often referred to as the
Ocean or global
ocean. This concept of a global ocean as a continuous body of
water with relatively free interchange among its parts is of
fundamental importance to oceanography.
The major oceanic divisions are defined in part by the continents,
various archipelagos, and other criteria: these divisions are (in
descending order of size) the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the
Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean. Smaller
regions of the oceans are called seas, gulfs, bays and other names.
There are also salt lakes, which are smaller bodies of landlocked
saltwater that are not interconnected with the
World Ocean. Two
notable examples of salt lakes are the
Aral Sea and the Great Salt
Lake Mapourika, New Zealand
Main article: Lake
A lake (from
Latin lacus) is a terrain feature (or physical feature),
a body of liquid on the surface of a world that is localized to the
bottom of basin (another type of landform or terrain feature; that is,
it is not global) and moves slowly if it moves at all. On Earth, a
body of water is considered a lake when it is inland, not part of the
ocean, is larger and deeper than a pond, and is fed by a
river. The only world other than
Earth known to harbor lakes
is Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which has lakes of ethane, most
likely mixed with methane. It is not known if Titan's lakes are fed by
rivers, though Titan's surface is carved by numerous river beds.
Natural lakes on
Earth are generally found in mountainous areas, rift
zones, and areas with ongoing or recent glaciation. Other lakes are
found in endorheic basins or along the courses of mature rivers. In
some parts of the world, there are many lakes because of chaotic
drainage patterns left over from the last
Ice Age. All lakes are
temporary over geologic time scales, as they will slowly fill in with
sediments or spill out of the basin containing them.
The Westborough Reservoir (Mill Pond) in Westborough, Massachusetts.
Main article: Pond
A pond is a body of standing water, either natural or man-made, that
is usually smaller than a lake. A wide variety of man-made bodies of
water are classified as ponds, including water gardens designed for
aesthetic ornamentation, fish ponds designed for commercial fish
breeding, and solar ponds designed to store thermal energy. Ponds and
lakes are distinguished from streams via current speed. While currents
in streams are easily observed, ponds and lakes possess thermally
driven micro-currents and moderate wind driven currents. These
features distinguish a pond from many other aquatic terrain features,
such as stream pools and tide pools.
Nile river in Cairo, Egypt's capital city
Main article: River
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing
toward an ocean, a lake, a sea or another river. In a few cases, a
river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before
reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by
several other names, including stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and
rill; there is no general rule that defines what can be called a
river. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic
location; one example is Burn in Scotland and North-east England.
Sometimes a river is said to be larger than a creek, but this is not
always the case, due to vagueness in the language. A river is part
of the hydrological cycle.
Water within a river is generally collected
from precipitation through surface runoff, groundwater recharge,
springs, and the release of stored water in natural ice and snowpacks
(i.e., from glaciers).
A rocky stream in Hawaii
Main article: Stream
A stream is a flowing body of water with a current, confined within a
bed and stream banks. In the United States, a stream is classified as
a watercourse less than 60 feet (18 metres) wide. Streams are
important as conduits in the water cycle, instruments in groundwater
recharge, and they serve as corridors for fish and wildlife migration.
The biological habitat in the immediate vicinity of a stream is called
a riparian zone. Given the status of the ongoing Holocene extinction,
streams play an important corridor role in connecting fragmented
habitats and thus in conserving biodiversity. The study of streams and
waterways in general involves many branches of inter-disciplinary
natural science and engineering, including hydrology, fluvial
geomorphology, aquatic ecology, fish biology, riparian ecology, and
Loch Lomond in Scotland forms a relatively isolated ecosystem. The
fish community of this lake has remained unchanged over a very long
period of time.
Lush green Aravalli Mountain Range in the Desert country-Rajasthan,
India. A wonder how such greenery can exist in hot Rajasthan, a place
well known for its Thar Desert
An aerial view of a human ecosystem. Pictured is the city of Chicago
Ecology and Ecosystem
Ecosystems are composed of a variety of abiotic and biotic components
that function in an interrelated way. The structure and
composition is determined by various environmental factors that are
interrelated. Variations of these factors will initiate dynamic
modifications to the ecosystem. Some of the more important components
are: soil, atmosphere, radiation from the sun, water, and living
Peñas Blancas, part of the Bosawás
Biosphere Reserve. Located
northeast of the city of
Jinotega in Northeastern Nicaragua.
Central to the ecosystem concept is the idea that living organisms
interact with every other element in their local environment. Eugene
Odum, a founder of ecology, stated: "Any unit that includes all of the
organisms (ie: the "community") in a given area interacting with the
physical environment so that a flow of energy leads to clearly defined
trophic structure, biotic diversity, and material cycles (i.e.:
exchange of materials between living and nonliving parts) within the
system is an ecosystem." Within the ecosystem, species are
connected and dependent upon one another in the food chain, and
exchange energy and matter between themselves as well as with their
environment. The human ecosystem concept is grounded in the
deconstruction of the human/nature dichotomy and the premise that all
species are ecologically integrated with each other, as well as with
the abiotic constituents of their biotope.
A smaller unit of size is called a microecosystem. For example, a
microsystem can be a stone and all the life under it. A macroecosystem
might involve a whole ecoregion, with its drainage basin.
European Beech forest in
Biogradska Gora National Park,
Main article: Wilderness
Wilderness is generally defined as areas that have not been
significantly modified by human activity.
Wilderness areas can be
found in preserves, estates, farms, conservation preserves, ranches,
national forests, national parks, and even in urban areas along
rivers, gulches, or otherwise undeveloped areas.
Wilderness areas and
protected parks are considered important for the survival of certain
species, ecological studies, conservation, solitude, and recreation.
Some nature writers believe wilderness areas are vital for the human
spirit and creativity, and some ecologists consider wilderness
areas to be an integral part of the Earth's self-sustaining natural
ecosystem (the biosphere). They may also preserve historic genetic
traits and that they provide habitat for wild flora and fauna that may
be difficult to recreate in zoos, arboretums, or laboratories.
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Earliest sexual reproduction
Axis scale: million years
Orange labels: ice ages.
Human timeline and
Female mallard and ducklings – reproduction is essential for
Main articles: Life, Biology, and Biosphere
Although there is no universal agreement on the definition of life,
scientists generally accept that the biological manifestation of life
is characterized by organization, metabolism, growth, adaptation,
response to stimuli, and reproduction.
Life may also be said to be
simply the characteristic state of organisms.
Properties common to terrestrial organisms (plants, animals, fungi,
protists, archaea, and bacteria) are that they are cellular,
carbon-and-water-based with complex organization, having a metabolism,
a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, and reproduce. An entity with
these properties is generally considered life. However, not every
definition of life considers all of these properties to be essential.
Human-made analogs of life may also be considered to be life.
The biosphere is the part of Earth's outer shell – including
land, surface rocks, water, air and the atmosphere – within
which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or
transform. From the broadest geophysiological point of view, the
biosphere is the global ecological system integrating all living
beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the
elements of the lithosphere (rocks), hydrosphere (water), and
atmosphere (air). The entire
Earth contains over 75 billion tons
(150 trillion pounds or about 6.8×1013 kilograms) of biomass
(life), which lives within various environments within the
Over nine-tenths of the total biomass on
Earth is plant life, on which
animal life depends very heavily for its existence. More than 2
million species of plant and animal life have been identified to
date, and estimates of the actual number of existing species range
from several million to well over 50 million. The
number of individual species of life is constantly in some degree of
flux, with new species appearing and others ceasing to exist on a
continual basis. The total number of species is in rapid
An area of the
Amazon Rainforest shared between
Colombia and Brazil.
The tropical rainforests of
South America contain the largest
diversity of species on Earth.
Main article: Evolution
The origin of life on
Earth is not well understood, but it is known to
have occurred at least 3.5 billion years ago, during
the hadean or archean eons on a primordial
Earth that had a
substantially different environment than is found at present.
These life forms possessed the basic traits of self-replication and
inheritable traits. Once life had appeared, the process of evolution
by natural selection resulted in the development of ever-more diverse
Species that were unable to adapt to the changing environment and
competition from other life forms became extinct. However, the fossil
record retains evidence of many of these older species. Current fossil
DNA evidence shows that all existing species can trace a continual
ancestry back to the first primitive life forms.
The advent of photosynthesis in very basic forms of plant life
worldwide allowed the sun's energy to be harvested to create
conditions allowing for more complex life. The
resultant oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere and gave rise to the
ozone layer. The incorporation of smaller cells within larger ones
resulted in the development of yet more complex cells called
eukaryotes. Cells within colonies became increasingly specialized,
resulting in true multicellular organisms. With the ozone layer
absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation, life colonized the surface of
A microscopic mite Lorryia formosa.
Main article: Microbe
The first form of life to develop on the
Earth were microbes, and they
remained the only form of life until about a billion years ago when
multi-cellular organisms began to appear. Microorganisms are
single-celled organisms that are generally microscopic, and smaller
than the human eye can see. They include Bacteria, Fungi, Archaea, and
These life forms are found in almost every location on the
there is liquid water, including in the Earth's interior. Their
reproduction is both rapid and profuse. The combination of a high
mutation rate and a horizontal gene transfer ability makes them
highly adaptable, and able to survive in new environments, including
outer space. They form an essential part of the planetary
ecosystem. However, some microorganisms are pathogenic and can post
health risk to other organisms.
Plants and animals
Plant and Animal
A selection of diverse plant species
A selection of diverse animal species
Aristotle divided all living things between plants, which
generally do not move fast enough for humans to notice, and animals.
In Linnaeus' system, these became the kingdoms
Plantae) and Animalia. Since then, it has become clear that the
Plantae as originally defined included several unrelated groups, and
the fungi and several groups of algae were removed to new kingdoms.
However, these are still often considered plants in many contexts.
Bacterial life is sometimes included in flora, and some
classifications use the term bacterial flora separately from plant
Among the many ways of classifying plants are by regional floras,
which, depending on the purpose of study, can also include fossil
of plant life from a previous era. People in many regions and
countries take great pride in their individual arrays of
characteristic flora, which can vary widely across the globe due to
differences in climate and terrain.
Regional floras commonly are divided into categories such as native
flora and agricultural and garden flora, the lastly mentioned of which
are intentionally grown and cultivated. Some types of "native flora"
actually have been introduced centuries ago by people migrating from
one region or continent to another, and become an integral part of the
native, or natural flora of the place to which they were introduced.
This is an example of how human interaction with nature can blur the
boundary of what is considered nature.
Another category of plant has historically been carved out for weeds.
Though the term has fallen into disfavor among botanists as a formal
way to categorize "useless" plants, the informal use of the word
"weeds" to describe those plants that are deemed worthy of elimination
is illustrative of the general tendency of people and societies to
seek to alter or shape the course of nature. Similarly, animals are
often categorized in ways such as domestic, farm animals, wild
animals, pests, etc. according to their relationship to human life.
Animals as a category have several characteristics that generally set
them apart from other living things. Animals are eukaryotic and
usually multicellular (although see Myxozoa), which separates them
from bacteria, archaea, and most protists. They are heterotrophic,
generally digesting food in an internal chamber, which separates them
from plants and algae. They are also distinguished from plants, algae,
and fungi by lacking cell walls.
With a few exceptions—most notably the two phyla consisting of
sponges and placozoans—animals have bodies that are differentiated
into tissues. These include muscles, which are able to contract and
control locomotion, and a nervous system, which sends and processes
signals. There is also typically an internal digestive chamber. The
eukaryotic cells possessed by all animals are surrounded by a
characteristic extracellular matrix composed of collagen and elastic
glycoproteins. This may be calcified to form structures like shells,
bones, and spicules, a framework upon which cells can move about and
be reorganized during development and maturation, and which supports
the complex anatomy required for mobility.
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Earliest stone tools
Earliest exit from Africa
Earliest fire use
Earliest in Europe
Axis scale: million years
Life timeline and
Despite their natural beauty, the secluded valleys along the Na Pali
Hawaii are heavily modified by introduced invasive species
such as She-oak.
Although humans comprise only a minuscule proportion of the total
living biomass on Earth, the human effect on nature is
disproportionately large. Because of the extent of human influence,
the boundaries between what humans regard as nature and "made
environments" is not clear cut except at the extremes. Even at the
extremes, the amount of natural environment that is free of
discernible human influence is diminishing at an increasingly rapid
The development of technology by the human race has allowed the
greater exploitation of natural resources and has helped to alleviate
some of the risk from natural hazards. In spite of this progress,
however, the fate of human civilization remains closely linked to
changes in the environment. There exists a highly complex feedback
loop between the use of advanced technology and changes to the
environment that are only slowly becoming understood. Man-made
threats to the Earth's natural environment include pollution,
deforestation, and disasters such as oil spills. Humans have
contributed to the extinction of many plants and animals.
Humans employ nature for both leisure and economic activities. The
acquisition of natural resources for industrial use remains a sizable
component of the world's economic system. Some activities,
such as hunting and fishing, are used for both sustenance and leisure,
often by different people. Agriculture was first adopted around the
9th millennium BCE. Ranging from food production to energy, nature
influences economic wealth.
Although early humans gathered uncultivated plant materials for food
and employed the medicinal properties of vegetation for healing,
most modern human use of plants is through agriculture. The clearance
of large tracts of land for crop growth has led to a significant
reduction in the amount available of forestation and wetlands,
resulting in the loss of habitat for many plant and animal species as
well as increased erosion.
Aesthetics and beauty
Pinguicula grandiflora, commonly known as a Butterwort
Beauty in nature has historically been a prevalent theme in art and
books, filling large sections of libraries and bookstores. That nature
has been depicted and celebrated by so much art, photography, poetry,
and other literature shows the strength with which many people
associate nature and beauty. Reasons why this association exists, and
what the association consists of, are studied by the branch of
philosophy called aesthetics. Beyond certain basic characteristics
that many philosophers agree about to explain what is seen as
beautiful, the opinions are virtually endless.
Nature and wildness
have been important subjects in various eras of world history. An
early tradition of landscape art began in China during the Tang
Dynasty (618–907). The tradition of representing nature as it is
became one of the aims of
Chinese painting and was a significant
influence in Asian art.
Although natural wonders are celebrated in the
Psalms and the
Job, wilderness portrayals in art became more prevalent in the 1800s,
especially in the works of the Romantic movement. British artists John
J. M. W. Turner
J. M. W. Turner turned their attention to capturing the
beauty of the natural world in their paintings. Before that, paintings
had been primarily of religious scenes or of human beings. William
Wordsworth's poetry described the wonder of the natural world, which
had formerly been viewed as a threatening place. Increasingly the
valuing of nature became an aspect of Western culture. This
artistic movement also coincided with the Transcendentalist movement
in the Western world. A common classical idea of beautiful art
involves the word mimesis, the imitation of nature. Also in the realm
of ideas about beauty in nature is that the perfect is implied through
perfect mathematical forms and more generally by patterns in nature.
As David Rothenburg writes, "The beautiful is the root of science and
the goal of art, the highest possibility that humanity can ever hope
Matter and energy
The first few hydrogen atom electron orbitals shown as cross-sections
with color-coded probability density
Matter and Energy
Some fields of science see nature as matter in motion, obeying certain
laws of nature which science seeks to understand. For this reason the
most fundamental science is generally understood to be
"physics" – the name for which is still recognizable as meaning
that it is the study of nature.
Matter is commonly defined as the substance of which physical objects
are composed. It constitutes the observable universe. The visible
components of the universe are now believed to compose only 4.9
percent of the total mass. The remainder is believed to consist of
26.8 percent cold dark matter and 68.3 percent dark energy. The
exact arrangement of these components is still unknown and is under
intensive investigation by physicists.
The behavior of matter and energy throughout the observable universe
appears to follow well-defined physical laws. These laws have been
employed to produce cosmological models that successfully explain the
structure and the evolution of the universe we can observe. The
mathematical expressions of the laws of physics employ a set of twenty
physical constants that appear to be static across the observable
universe. The values of these constants have been carefully
measured, but the reason for their specific values remains a mystery.
Planets of the
Solar System (Sizes to scale, distances and
illumination not to scale)
NGC 4414 is a spiral galaxy in the constellation
Coma Berenices about
56,000 light-years in diameter and approximately 60 million
light-years from Earth
Main articles: Outer space, Universe, and Extraterrestrial life
Outer space, also simply called space, refers to the relatively empty
regions of the universe outside the atmospheres of celestial bodies.
Outer space is used to distinguish it from airspace (and terrestrial
locations). There is no discrete boundary between the Earth's
atmosphere and space, as the atmosphere gradually attenuates with
Outer space within the
Solar System is called
interplanetary space, which passes over into interstellar space at
what is known as the heliopause.
Outer space is sparsely filled with several dozen types of organic
molecules discovered to date by microwave spectroscopy, blackbody
radiation left over from the big bang and the origin of the universe,
and cosmic rays, which include ionized atomic nuclei and various
subatomic particles. There is also some gas, plasma and dust, and
small meteors. Additionally, there are signs of human life in outer
space today, such as material left over from previous manned and
unmanned launches which are a potential hazard to spacecraft. Some of
this debris re-enters the atmosphere periodically.
Earth is the only body within the solar system known to
support life, evidence suggests that in the distant past the planet
Mars possessed bodies of liquid water on the surface. For a brief
period in Mars' history, it may have also been capable of forming
life. At present though, most of the water remaining on
frozen. If life exists at all on Mars, it is most likely to be located
underground where liquid water can still exist.
Conditions on the other terrestrial planets, Mercury and Venus, appear
to be too harsh to support life as we know it. But it has been
conjectured that Europa, the fourth-largest moon of Jupiter, may
possess a sub-surface ocean of liquid water and could potentially host
Astronomers have started to discover extrasolar
Earth analogs –
planets that lie in the habitable zone of space surrounding a star,
and therefore could possibly host life as we know it.
Force of nature
Nature versus nurture
Natural History, by Pliny the Elder
Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nature, a prominent scientific journal
National Wildlife, a publication of the National
Nature (TV series)
World (TV series)
Naturalism, any of several philosophical stances, typically those
descended from materialism and pragmatism that do not distinguish the
supernatural from nature; this includes the
methodological naturalism of natural science, which makes the
methodological assumption that observable events in nature are
explained only by natural causes, without assuming either the
existence or non-existence of the supernatural
Balance of nature (biological fallacy), a discredited concept of
natural equilibrium in predator–prey dynamics
Notes and references
^ Harper, Douglas. "nature". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved
^ An account of the pre-Socratic use of the concept of φύσις may
be found in Naddaf, Gerard (2006) The Greek Concept of Nature, SUNY
Press. The word φύσις, while first used in connection with a
plant in Homer, occurs very early in Greek philosophy, and in several
senses. Generally, these senses match rather well the current senses
in which the English word nature is used, as confirmed by Guthrie,
W.K.C. Presocratic Tradition from Parmenides to Democritus (volume 2
of his History of Greek Philosophy), Cambridge UP, 1965.
^ The first known use of physis was by
Homer in reference to the
intrinsic qualities of a plant: ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας πόρε
φάρμακον ἀργεϊφόντης ἐκ γαίης
ἐρύσας, καί μοι φύσιν αὐτοῦ ἔδειξε.
(So saying, Argeiphontes [=Hermes] gave me the herb, drawing it from
the ground, and showed me its nature.)
Odyssey 10.302-3 (ed. A.T.
Murray). (The word is dealt with thoroughly in Liddell and Scott's
Greek Lexicon.) For later but still very early Greek uses of the term,
see earlier note.
^ Isaac Newton's
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687),
for example, is translated "Mathematical Principles of Natural
Philosophy", and reflects the then-current use of the words "natural
philosophy", akin to "systematic study of nature"
^ The etymology of the word "physical" shows its use as a synonym for
"natural" in about the mid-15th century: Harper, Douglas. "physical".
Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2006-09-20.
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marshes and swamps contain relatively large quantities of grasses,
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lakes. Geologically defined, lakes are temporary bodies of
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would be very roughly 0.6%.
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