Is the Earth Special?
I loved this recent Slashdot post. It's full of interesting facts about our planet.
Planetary scientists say there are aspects to our planet and its evolution that are remarkably strange. In the first place there is Earth's strong magnetic field. No one is exactly sure how it works, but it has something to do with the turbulent motion that occurs in the Earth's liquid outer core and without it, we would be bombarded by harmful radiation from the Sun. Next there's plate tectonics. We live on a planet that is constantly recycling its crust, limiting the amount of carbon dioxide escaping into the atmosphere — a natural way of controlling the greenhouse effect. Then there's Jupiter-sized outer planets protecting the Earth from frequent large impacts. But the strangest thing of all is our big Moon. "As the Earth rotates, it wobbles on its axis like a child's spinning top," says Professor Monica Grady. 'What the Moon does is dampen down that wobble and that helps to prevent extreme climate fluctuations' — which would be detrimental to life. The moon's tides have also made long swaths of earth's coastline into areas of that are regularly shifted between dry and wet, providing a proving ground for early sea life to test the land for its suitability as a habitat. The "Rare Earth Hypothesis" is one solution to the Fermi Paradox (PDF) because, if Earth is uniquely special as an abode of life, ETI will necessarily be rare or even non-existent. And in the absence of verifiable alien contact, scientific opinion will forever remain split as to whether the Universe teems with life or we are alone in the inky blackness.
Source: Is the Earth Special?