Plate tectonics is not all havoc and destruction. The slow movement of continents and ocean floors recycles carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans back into the atmosphere. Without this slow speed carbon cycle, Earth's temperatures would cool dozens of degrees below your comfort zone.
Forecasting Armageddon has become trendy of late, with a great deal of attention being given to an interpretation of the Mayan Calendar suggesting that Mother Earth is destined for doom in December of 2012.
It will be the mother of all telescopes, and you can bet it will do for astronomy what genome sequencing is doing for biology. The clumsy, if utilitarian, name of this mirrored monster is Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, or LSST. You can't use it yet, but a peak in the Chilean Andes has been decapitated to provide a level spot for placement.
Jupiter, a world far larger than Earth, is so warm that it currently radiates more internal heat than it receives from the Sun.
Planets that don't currently sport plate tectonics, such as Venus and Mars, are scarcely habitable. Tectonics might be a requirement of any world that aspires to a rich diversity of life.
By 2020, most home computers will have the computing power of a human brain. That doesn't mean that they are brains, but it means that in terms of raw processing, they can process bits as fast as a brain can. So the question is, how far behind that is the development of a machine that's as smart as we are?
In 1908, there was a persuasive demonstration of the power of high-speed, low-mass asteroids in rural Siberia. The Tunguska impactor iced millions of pine trees and about a zillion mosquitoes - and was no larger than an office building.
The split between religion and science is relatively new. Isaac Newton, who first worked out the laws by which gravity held the planets and even the stars in their traces, was sufficiently impressed by the scale and regularity of the universe to ascribe it all to God.
Data from orbiting telescopes like NASA's Kepler Mission hint that the tally of habitable planets in our galaxy is many billion. If E.T.'s not out there, then Earth is more than merely special - it's some sort of miracle.
Certainly the history of astronomy shows that every time we thought we were special, we were wrong.
Typically, only about 2 percent of the American populace tunes in to PBS's 'Nova' series - the most successful science show on the tube. 'Survivor' and 'X Factor' get twice the ratings.
Today's voguish threats, including climate change, population growth, massive war, and resource depletion, are all amenable to a fix if we act prudently. And even if we don't, these problems are incapable of obliterating all of humanity, let alone destroying the Earth. No, the real End of Days will happen slowly, as the Sun ages.
There's no doubt that the Moon is more than a handy night light and a hair restorer for werewolves. It's responsible for the substantial amplitude of earthly ocean tides. These are of obvious influence if you're a geoduck, a type of clam that people dig up at low tide.
When was the last time you bought an American-made radio or television? If you're Gen X or younger, the answer is 'never.' Does the label on that shirt or skirt you're wearing say 'Made in the U.S.A.'? If so, you probably got it at Goodwill, or maybe at a Smithsonian garage sale.
Despite the impression you may have from watching too much TV, movies are not about reproducing reality. They're about telling stories.
The mission of NASA's Kepler telescope is to lift the scales from our eyes and reveal to us just how typical our home world is. Kepler operates by measuring the dimming of stars as planets pass ('transit') in front of them. It has found thousands of previously unknown worlds.
The bottom line is that finding orphan planets - small, faint, and located who-knows-where - is not for the faint of heart. The task is comparable to observing a match flame at the distance of Pluto. The WISE satellite, a hi-tech, space-based infrared telescope especially suited for such work, has found only a few.
Despite tantalizing suggestions of fossilized microbes in meteorites, puzzling and possibly biogenic methane gas in the martian atmosphere, and a long-standing controversy over the Viking lander experiments of nearly 40 years ago, there's still no Exhibit A that points unequivocally to biology in our own back yard.
In days gone by, scientists would speak solemnly about our solar system's 'habitable zone' - a theoretical region extending from Venus to Mars, but perhaps not encompassing either, where a planet would be the right temperature to have liquid water on its surface.
If gravity were somewhat stronger or weaker, stars wouldn't exist, and neither would you. And the same can be said of other constants of physics. Several have to be 'just right.'