Do we use the definite article "the" when speaking about Earth (the Earth)? I have seen it both ways. Is there a difference?

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No difference in intent, I am sure, but the usual way is Earth or earth (no article).
There is a huge difference if you follow standard rules of English. First, Earth is a proper noun. You will not be flying to "the Mars" ever, though you might, however slightly, have a chance of flying to Mars.  Hence you live on Earth, not the Earth.

When written "earth" however, we are referring to dirt. So, if the earth in this area is arid, I will not want to plant crops in it, else I will have to figure out a good irrigation system.

We live on Earth; we plant crops in earth.

If we maintain that definition, soil on other planets could conceivably properly be called "earth," but never Earth.

Simply put, "the" does NOT belong when you speak of or write about your home planet.
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BRAVO! I crusade for this as it is not only technically correct but helps build respect for our one and only Earth!
So would we fly to the moon, or simply fly to Moon?
We would fly to the moon / the Moon.
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I love this explaination. So clear, so nice.
Sorry, I can't agree. Actually, it really depends on how "earth" is written into the context. There are countless usages by scientific circles in which "the earth" is used frequently.
'The earth' can also be used when you are trying to signify a simply word like 'ground' in a sentence - Ex: ...keep the earth below my feet strong and I will walk miles... - you can replace 'earth' with 'ground' here, and the meaning will still remain same.
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