Why is Earth a Closed System?

Why is Earth a Closed System?
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  • 0:03 A Closed System
  • 0:44 The Earth
  • 1:31 Only Energy Transfers
  • 2:02 Open Systems Inside…
  • 2:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After completing this lesson, you'll understand why the earth is a closed system inside the universe, but an open system inside the earth's atmosphere. You'll learn the one defining characteristic that makes a closed system.

A Closed System

What do you think of when you hear the word ''closed?'' Do you think of a closed door or a closed box? Well, if you thought of a closed box, then you aren't too far away from the definition of a closed system.

By definition, a closed system is a system in which the only thing that can be transferred with its surroundings is energy. A sealed box is a perfect example of a closed system: nothing that's contained within it can come out, and nothing on the outside can come in. However, if, for example, the heat is turned up in room the box is sitting in (or its surroundings) the box itself, and eventually, the contents inside will heat up as well. This is because heat is energy.

The Earth

You may not think of Earth as a closed box. After all, you hear of astronauts going into space and even walking on the moon. But, in fact, it is closed, because virtually all matter (things that have mass and take up space) inside the earth's atmosphere is kept inside, as long as it follows Earth's physical laws. Only if matter breaks these laws does it leave the earth. Astronauts leaving the earth is an intentional act, and a difficult one at that. The space shuttle needs an incredible force of energy to break the law of gravity and exit Earth's atmosphere without burning up.

Similarly, matter from the earth's surroundings (outer space) is not able to reach the earth. The extremely cold mid- to outer layers of the atmosphere prevent stray meteors, for example, from doing damage to the earth.

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