Key Idea 1:

The Earth and celestial phenomena can be described by principles of relative motion and perspective.

Introduction: People have observed the stars for thousands of years, using them to find direction, note the passage of time, and to

express their values and traditions. As our technology has progressed, so has understanding of celestial objects and events.

Theories of the universe have developed over many centuries. Although to a casual observer celestial bodies appeared to orbit a stationary Earth, scientific discoveries led us to the understanding that Earth is one planet that orbits the Sun, a typical star in a vast and ancient universe. We now infer an origin and an age and evolution of the universe, as we speculate about its future.

As we look at Earth, we find clues to its origin and how it has changed through nearly five billion years, as well as the evolution of life on Earth.

Key Idea 2:

Many of the phenomena that we observe on Earth involve interactions among components of air, water, and land.

Introduction: Earth may be considered a huge machine driven by two engines, one internal and one external. These heat engines convert heat energy into mechanical energy.

Earth’s external heat engine is powered primarily by solar energy and influenced by gravity. Nearly all the energy for circulating the atmosphere and oceans is supplied by the Sun. As insolation strikes the atmosphere, a small percentage is directly absorbed, especially by gases such as ozone, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. Clouds and Earth’s surface reflect some energy back to space, and Earth’s surface absorbs some energy. Energy is transferred between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere by radiation, conduction, evaporation, and convection. Temperature variations within the atmosphere cause differences in density that cause atmospheric circulation, which is affected by Earth’s rotation. The interaction of these processes results in the complex atmospheric occurrence known as weather.

Average temperatures on Earth are the result of the total amount of insolation absorbed by

Earth’s surface and its atmosphere and the amount of long-wave energy radiated back into space. However, throughout geologic time, ice ages occurred in the middle latitudes. In addition, average temperatures may have been significantly warmer at times in the geologic past. This suggests that Earth had climate changes that were most likely associated with long periods of imbalances of its heat budget.

Earth’s internal heat engine is powered by heat from the decay of radioactive materials and residual heat from Earth’s formation. Differences in density resulting from heat flow within Earth’s interior caused the changes explained by the theory of plate tectonics: movement of the lithospheric plates; earthquakes; volcanoes; and the deformation and metamorphism of rocks during the formation of young mountains.

Precipitation resulting from the external heat engine’s weather systems supplies moisture to Earth’s surface that contributes to the weathering of rocks. Running water erodes mountains that were originally uplifted by Earth’s internal heat engine and transports sediments to other locations, where they are deposited and may undergo the

processes that transform them into sedimentary rocks.

Global climate is determined by the interaction of solar energy with Earth’s surface and atmosphere. This energyt ransfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and Earth rotation, and the positions of mountain ranges and oceans.

Key Idea 3:

Matter is made up of particles whose properties determine the observable characteristics of matter and its reactivity.


Observation and classification have helped us understand the great variety and complexity of Earth materials. Minerals are the naturally occurring inorganic solid elements, compounds, and mixtures from which rocks are made. We classify minerals on the basis of their chemical composition and observable properties. Rocks are generally classified by their origin (igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary), texture, and mineral content.

Rocks and minerals help us understand Earth’s historical development and its dynamics. They are important to us because of their availability and properties. The use and distribution of mineral resources and fossil fuels have important economic and environmental impacts. As limited resources, they must be used wisely.

Please note: Key Idea 3, Performance Indicators 3.2 - 3.4, are addressed in the Chemistry Core Curriculum.