The Earth, as seen from the moon. See more pictures of the moon.

Image courtesy NASA

In "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Arthur Dent has trouble getting his mind around the Vogon Constructor Fleet's destruction of the Earth. He can't process it -- it's just too big. Arthur tries to narrow it down, but thinking of England, New York, Bogart movies and the dollar produces no reaction. Only when he considers the extinction of McDonald's hamburgers does it finally sink in.

After deciding to write about how the Earth works, we felt a little like Arthur Dent. Even though it's tiny compared to the rest of the universe, the Earth is enormous, and it's extremely complex.

But instead of collectively going out for a burger, we decided to take another approach. Rather than examining each of the Earth's parts, we'll look at what ties it all together. Just about everything on Earth happens because of the presence of the sun. You'll get a basic idea of how vital the sun is to life on Earth and the wide variety of roles it plays in the next section.