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Image from: Rick Kohrs, Space Science and Engineering Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Surface of the Earth

Underneath the water that fills the oceans, and the dirt and plants that cover the land, the Earth's surface layer is made of rock. Long ago, this rocky outer layer of Earth formed a hard crust when lava cooled.

The surface layer is broken into many large plates that move very slowly, much too slowly to see with your eyes. Mountain ranges are pushed up if two plates crash into each other. Other surface features are the result of the moving plates too, including the shape of the continents. About 250 million years ago, most of the land was connected together, and over time it has separated into seven continents as the plates move.


Last modified April 28, 2016 by Jennifer Bergman.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA