Part 3 – The first ‘air strikes’. Earth is smashed with mountain-sized asteroids.

Do you like the taste of hydrogen? Imagine consuming nothing but hydrogen all day and pooping out oxygen. If you were a Cyanobacteria, about the time the earth was a billion years old, that would be your mission and you would have been both loved and hated; loved by the new breed of cells that could lap up all the rich oxygen fuel. Too bad for those anaerobic organisms that were the only life on earth back then.

All this oxygen was also laying the foundation for a few future humans to get rich mining all that iron that was rusting out of the water and falling to the bottom to become widespread iron ore deposits.
Not long after the first layers were put down, a small mountain-sized rock smacked into Western Australia, about where some of the world’s richest deposits can be found. It left a crater 60 kilometres or 36 miles across. Not like the baby pictured here.

The Sun has managed 8 laps around the galaxy by 2.63 billion years ago and the earth had slowed its giddy spin to a more sedate 13 hour day. The moon covered half the night sky so it could barely be called ‘night’ due to the vast amount of reflected light that lit up the place when the sun wasn’t shining.

Close moon. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.

Nipping forward now, another quarter of a billion years, (2.38 billion years ago) the Sun had its 9th birthday and the rising oxygen levels had killed off most single cell life but for reasons not yet confirmed, the place got cold. Well, that COULD be a bit of an understatement.  Most probably a super volcano or a massive up-welling of magma caused the atmosphere to block out the warming sunlight in a runaway cold snap that saw ice spread from the poles, all the way north and south to the equator. The first ‘Snowball Earth’ event begins. (Read the scientific arguments about the hypothesis here).snowball earth

By 2.130 million years ago, the place was still frozen, the Sun had now travelled 10 times around the galaxy and a day takes just 15 hours before sunrise rise again. Not long after, the massive land mass of the super continent Nuna allows the future northern Europe and north America to wander off and in the process, probably once again by slow release volcanic activity, the earth’s surface begins to thaw and the first ‘Snowball Earth’ event was done. Oxygen is the new fuel.

It was a lovely morning, a little over 2 billion years ago, lovely by early earth standards anyway. The air had improved considerably in the last 1,000 million years, gone was the usual toxic mix (to us) of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, replaced by a more comfortable mix that included a copious amount of oxygen, thanks to the efforts of the hardworking blue-green algae. Some of their descendants still live in Australia, as it happens, still pumping out oxygen just as granddad did.

So it came as a nasty surprise when a rock, about the size of Pluto came to visit, travelling at the unfriendly speed of a bullet, only fast. The piece of land it targeted was to become a future South Africa, when that land eventually settled in its present position and we could give it a name. South Africa carried the scar, a hole in the ground 300 kilometres across, that’s 180 miles for the metrically challenged, all that way from the south pole.asteroid impact

There is one hole that’s even bigger, caused by a different asteroid, but it’s on Mars.

The crater was deep too, about as deep as a transcontinental commercial aircraft is high. Next time you are flying, imagine you are now standing on the edge of the hole, which is probably fair too as you wouldn’t be able to see the other side anyway. Standing on the edge of a 30,000 foot cliff might have been a bit unnerving though.

Of course, it’s been filled in quite a bit since then, what with rivers pouring silt and rocks into the crater for a couple of billion years. Even a hole that size can be filled in eventually.

After a couple of thousand years things settled down and for the following 43 million years, everything was on ‘slow and steady’ time, building up to celebrating The Sun’s 11th birthday, having just completed another orbit around the galaxy. The party lasted 16 hours too, as the earth’s rotation has slowed quite a bit since it collided with little sister Theia all those years ago, creating the original 6 hour day.

The Moon, which was the consequence, the child, of Theia’s visit, had also moved off quite a bit, having drifted out to 273,000 kilometes (168,000 miles give or take) so the tides were somewhat less than the 1000 foot high monster tides of the early days.

All about The Moon. No, really.

Before The Sun could celebrate another birthday, and there is a fair wait too as they only come around once every 250 million years, another asteroid dropped in, this time onto Canada. This one was not quite as big as Pluto but a lot bigger than Mt Everest and it left the second biggest crater on planet earth at an impressive 250 kilometres wide.asteroid

As it happens, by the time of the 12th orbit a little later, another smallish mountain, more of a hill really, came by, leaving a modest 30 kilometre wide crater. No worries so long as you were a few thousand miles away and didn’t mind a 10 year winter.

One and a half billion years ago, the earth’s crust, which only averages a micro thin 40 kilometres in thickness, began to break up into smaller land masses, drifting across the planet. By now, the earth is getting used to new passengers with another asteroid arriving at the 1.45 billion mark, this time opening up a crater in Western Finland 25 kilometres across.

In the oceans, groups of cells had evolved in response to the new oxygen levels that had killed off the earlier anaerobic inhabitants. Within some of these cell groups, photo receptor proteins, that is, proteins that react to being hit with a photon of light, had been clumping into small groups, known as primitive ‘eye spots’ as a clue to what they will eventually evolve into.

By the Suns 13th birthday, the slowing of the earth’s rotation brought the 18 hour day and by its 14th birthday, the moon was 325,000 kilometres away and a standard day was 19 hours. As if to mark the occasion, 1.1 billion years ago, a small mountain asteroid crashed into Australia leaving a 20 kilometre wide crater behind as it disintegrated into dust.

All was quite then for the next 100 million years except for the silent collision between Europe and America, which, when joined by a couple of other land masses, formed the Rodinia super-continent. At the southern pole, Australia suffered a massive lava flow where ten of thousands of square kilometres of land are covered by a slow train wreck of hot magma being disgorged from deep in the earth.

By the time multi-cell life emerges, around 880 million years ago, The Sun was 15 and the moon had drifted out to 366,000 kilometres although still 40 times larger in the night sky than what we see today.

At 750 million years ago, the super continent Rodinia was breaking up already, with part becoming the Gondwana super continent of which Australia and India were a significant part. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was not doing too well as the high carbon dioxide content was dissolving in the rainwater making acid rain, albeit very mild acid, but enough to be absorbed into the rocky surface. This drop in CO2 meant less warming atmosphere and the earth began to cool down. Fast. Again.

Within a mere 10 million years, ice sheets had formed from the poles and spread towards the equator, for the second time, eventually covering the entire surface, land and sea. ‘Snowball’ earth was back. The ice was 3 kilometres (nearly 2 miles) thick and it would have stayed that way too, if not for the restless liquid inner mantle and sporadically burst though the ice, pumping out vast quantities of carbon dioxide stored in the aforementioned rocks. For 15 million years, volcanic activity put out the warming CO2 blanket. As the remaining ice-covered rock can’t absorb it, the atmosphere began to warm up again and the sea level began to rise.snowball earth

And so we arrive at the 700,000,000 mark, where 80% of the time the earth has been around has passed already. What comes next, happens in the remaining 20%. As if that is not staggering enough, the Universe is so old, 95% of the time it has existed so far, has passed, so all that we have yet to record here, happens in the remaining 5% of time to the present day. (What happened in the first squillion years?)

In that small window, we need to fit in most of what we know about life, but incredibly, even from point, we have to wait another 100 million years just to meet the first animal life.

Humans? Maybe in the last few minutes.

This article covers around 30 of the 300 ‘Days’ in the Diary of the Universe.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. See what it looks like here.)

 

Part Two – A Lucky Escape For The Newly Born Earth

A lot of gas and dust had been gathering in a certain corner of the Milky Way. It was 4,630 million years ago, that’s 4.63 billion, if you can get your head around big numbers and for some time, the gas cloud had been getting denser, thicker, heavier, blocking out the light from nearby stars. As atom piled upon atom, each attracted by the mass of other atoms at the centre of the cloud, space was warming up as the heat generated by the pressure built up. Close by the cloud, it was too hot to be exposed and the gravity was so strong, any particle, atom, rock or passing comet, was pulled in towards a terminal meeting with the cloud, a guaranteed end to existence.

One day, maybe it was a Monday, the last atom required to set off this time bomb rocketed into the cloud and the crushing gravitational mass began fusing the hydrogen and helium atoms under the incredible pressure, releasing a steady stream of energy radiating out in all directions and a brilliant white light of hot plasma lit up the area for billions of miles.

We call it The Sun. The full story of how it came to be, can be found in …..
‘Day 21: The Birth of The Sun’.

(The ‘Diary of the Universe’ covers about 300 ‘Days’ each with its own story)

As ancient as our 4,630,000,000 year old sun is, on the day it was born, two thirds of all the time that has ever existed in our Universe, had already passed by.

The gravitational forces were so powerful, every scrap of material for millions of miles was pulled into the nuclear furnace that was fusing the gas atoms at millions of degrees. Way out in the blackness, where the gravity was weakest, a few rocks were orbiting the star like weights on the end of a string, travelling too fast to fall into the fire but too close to escape, doomed to spend forever or even longer trapped on the longest voyage possible.

In total, they made up less than one percent, less than one fifth of one percent, a minuscule 0.14% of the material within influence of the star. Our planet is just a small part of that 0.14%. We are a million times smaller than The Sun.

A trifling 130 million years later, our bit of rock was still a bit warm from all the ‘aggregation’ a fancy way of saying lots of rocks were piling in on top of each other melting the early adopters until we had a core of molten magma containing a handy few million tonnes of gold and other heavy bits.

On the surface, the rock was still moving there too, oozing around at about 1200 degrees Celsius. Above the bubbling cauldron, the atmosphere was a heady mixture of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and a touch of water vapor. Sorry, no oxygen.

While the earth was waiting for things to cool down a bit, it could not avoid the annoying interruption of large bits of rock that were the left over crumbs from the Sun’s table. Annoying as being pelted with rocks can be, it was nothing compared to the visitor that was set to arrive a little while later.

Just 155 million years after our little planet got a start in life, just a baby, a rather hot babe, a little sister arrived. Yes indeed, we used to have one more planet in our neighbourhood and her name was Theia. She was by all accounts, a cute little thing, about the size of Venus and she popped in travelling at about 5 times the speed of a bullet.

The meeting was not a gentle affair, no gentle sisterly kiss, rather more like a headbutt of gargantuan proportions, an upper cut from the south west that nearly missed us, but it didn’t. Where a future northern hemisphere would be, siblings came together with a crash of unbelievable violence, which gets its own article on
The planet Theia colliding with earth. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.
‘Day 25 – The Day The Earth Crashed’.

For the next 100 years, a microsecond of Universal time, rocks that got themselves blasted off into space, rained down, upon the earth, creating some mighty splashes in the molten goo. The interesting bit was that only about half came back. “What happened to the rest”?, one may ask. Look up my son, on most nights you will see the other bit. Yes, it’s the moon albeit a lot further away than on that sunny morn.

Close moon. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.By the time ‘Day 27’ comes around, 4.38 billion years ago, it was an anniversary of sorts, mainly for the Sun, because it had just completed its very first birthday, aka, one trip around the galaxy. If all goes well, it should be able to make about 40 circuits before the light goes out. (So far, The Sun has make 20 circuits, putting it in middle age so I guess the earth is middle aged now too, as we have been faithfully tagging along since the beginning.)

It took a good half a billion years for the temperature to drop far enough for the surface rock to solidify, forming a thin, hard crust on a liquid core. The earth was tilted off the vertical by 24 degrees by the massive impact with Theia which will turn out to be a very good thing, giving us the seasons that will stimulate and sustain life, when it finally arrives.

By the time The Sun has its second birthday, the Moon has moved away from its initial position, a very close 22,000 kilometres, to 68,000 kilometres away.

The accumulation of rock over the past half billion years, including the donation by Theia, has added considerably to the mass of the earth which encourages even more debris, pulled in from the outer reaches by earth’s strong gravity of the mass of the rock and iron core composition.bombardment

By the third lap around the galaxy, water degassed from the mantle together with vast volumes delivered by billions of meteors, primarily composed of ice, covers the whole solid surface of the planet. By ‘Day 32’ the earth has slowed down a bit, from the giddy 6 hour day just after the collision, to a slightly more sedate seven and a half hours.

Over the next 200 million years volcanic activity really got underway, pushing up many islands across the whole planet. The moon is 87,000 kilometres away now, (50k miles) and still causing massive 1,000 foot high tines. By ‘Day 35’ the sun completes its fourth orbit around the centre of our galaxy, and as the earth’s spin slows to a 9 hour day, molecules of chemical elements form the first single cell.

This article covers just about 20 ‘Days’ in the Diary of the Universe, the full list of 300 events can be found here.
There are about 300 ‘Days’ of Earth History, listed in our ‘Diary of The Universe’ poster and it’s interesting to follow the development of our little patch. You can download the whole poster for printing.

All about The Moon. No, really.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. See what it looks like here.)

History Of The Universe

History Of The Universe

2 weeks 3 days ago

What chance would be have now of surviving these old…

Part three of our journey. We could never survive this now.https://earthpast.com/group-articles/part-3-the-first-air-strikes-earth-is-smashed-with-mountain-sized-asteroids/

History Of The Universe

2 weeks 3 days ago

Part three of our journey. We could never survive this…

History Of The Universe

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A huge magnificent poster/chart of the happenings of the universe…

History Of The Universe

3 weeks 14 hours ago

History Of The Universe shared their post.

History Of The Universe

Part one. What happened exactly, before the earth was born?

A million years is quite a slice of time, but imagine 13,800 of them. That’s 13.8 billion and that’s when your life story actually begins.

Perhaps the greatest understatement, serenely floating around in the vastness of the universe is the term “Big Bang”. Nothing comes close to describing what happened in that first second, not atomic weapons, not exploding stars, not even supernovae.

And, if we cherish our understatements a little longer, it was hot. Not hot like anything that could be formed on a planet, not hot like the sun which by comparison is like standing next to the air conditioning on a coolish day, but really, really hot.  So hot that nothing existed, not even sub-atomic particles and everything that was to come, the stars, the planets, the universe itself was packed into a space so small, by normal definition it did not even exist. It was energy, finite, but by our standards, may as well be infinite energy.Albert Einstein, Diary of The Universe

And Energy equals Mass as Albert informed us, E=MC2 which means Energy is same as multiplying Mass (called ‘weight’ here on earth) by the Speed of light by the Speed of light (ie, squared). This means that although there was ‘nothing’ there was also ‘everything’ at the same time.

What triggered the blast, the release of that energy, may not be fully established yet, we have some competing hypotheses to work with, however it is fairly certain science will eventually create methods for testing, so we settle the matter.

What we do know is that is happened and what happened in the time slot just after the “pop” is interesting but a bit hard to comprehend. Like everything else on the subject, the time slot is impossibly short, a Planck, a fraction of a second but only much smaller, a billion, billionth etc.) it was too hot to have nuclear forces or even gravity.Max Planck with Alvert Einstein, Diary of The UniverseMax Planck with Albert Einstein

(That’s 0.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,001th of a second if you’re interested).

Now we all “know” that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, but during this briefest of periods before the second Planck, we had space inflation which did just that. It was so fast, the forces blasted out were moved apart more by the expanding space than by the explosion and none of that fits with what scientists already know. So far.

Then we had some cooling down to temperatures that are still so hot they are way beyond our comprehension and things like gravity, nuclear forces and electromagnetism were separated into individual forces in their own right. (To be a little more accurate, the first one out of the blocks was the weak nuclear force which broke loose in the 4 zeros between the 36th and the 32nd  part of the first second when the inflation ended.)

Particles popped into existence by the collisions of energy particles (which have no mass or “weight”) into bosons which converted the energy into a particle which actually has mass. There was no ‘something from nothing’ at least from the point where the ‘bang’ occurred as there was definitely a lot of energy (another understatement) so by default there was mass, a lot of it, as they are the same thing.

From 20 seconds to 380,000,000 years (that’s 380 million years) may seem a bit of a jump to us with our mini time scales but for the universe it wasn’t even late morning when the hydrogen ions and the helium ions begin to capture electrons to become stable, electrically charged neutral atoms. Solid matter at last.

In the open reaches of space, vast clouds of stable atoms of helium and hydrogen would later coalesce under gravity to ignite the stars, but for now, some were joining forces to create organic molecules making interesting things like ice, but really, something more exciting is overdue.

600 million years later, gravity has pulled massive amounts of hydrogen and helium together. The first nuclear fires, stars form.

The very first galaxy was not large as it only takes about 300 years for the light from the outside stars to reach the middle of the pack.

That galaxy could be MACS0647-JD. It’s not a very glamorous name for what may be the first galaxy, but that’s what we have called the light picked up by one of the Hubble Telescope’s programs called the Cluster Lensing and Supernova survey. The scientists had chosen a “quiet spot” to look, somewhere southwest of Orion. It is hardly sufficient to say it is long way from here because the light from this galaxy has been scooting along at 186,000 miles per second for 13,300,000,000 years and only just arrived this morning.

Ok, so we accept the first one is a long way from here, but there are at least 10,000 others out there too in the same outer region and each one had their own billion stars (had, as they have almost certainly expired already).

The probing of this particular part of the universe is an extremely small window, an area equal to about one tenth of the night sky obscured by the moon. In between us and the long distant galaxy, new galaxies are still being formed so the universe is a pretty dynamic place these days.

To collect all that light from even a small part of the night sky takes time. You can’t just take a shot with your digital camera and head off to the pub. The instruments are set for lengthy periods of exposure with multiple readings collated via complex computer computations for the right result. To get the same level of detail for the whole night sky, the photography session would need to last a million years, give or take so we may have to settle for just this one spot for now.

Massive volumes of hydrogen and helium atoms were attracted to each other by gravity, by far the weakest of the 4 forces of nature. But because the strength of gravity is governed by the mass of the objects, qualified by how close they are to each other, gravity can become somewhat pressing.

(Actually, gravity always wins because despite being the weakest force, well behind the nuclear forces and electromagnetism, it acts long-range. Eventually objects become bigger, making gravity stronger as the mass increases.)

In this case, as the atoms bumped into each other they gradually became bound together in an ever increasing mass. The strength increased with each additional atom until the new additions were pressing down on the earlier atoms with so much force, the temperature soared something approaching 15 million of degrees.

When the temperature reached the critical point, the whole lot erupted in a nuclear fire that we call a star. Fortunately, the star does not explode in the normal sense or even “burn” in the normal sense as there is no appreciable oxygen to facilitate combustion.

As it happens, the temperature is so high, the pressure so great that hydrogen atoms begin to fuse releasing helium and energy. Strangely, the level of energy produced by a star is fairly low when measured as a percentage of its mass, but it has a lot of mass. As a result we get a very bright spot in the sky which releases a lot of energy and in the case of the earth, that is a good thing.

Fortunately the action in the core is counter-balanced by the gravity pull on the outer two thirds, so we end up with a stable firework that will persist for about 8 billion years. Our star is about half way through and while the temperature its core is 15 million degrees, where the fusion is taking place, out on the “surface” it’s a very much milder 5800 degrees, very much less than 1% of the core temperature and, perversely, less than the temperature in the corona, way above the surface at the edge of Sun’s ‘atmosphere’.

By 13 billion years ago, the first stars are clumped into the first galaxies which is essentially, a whole lot of stars clumped together, but in terms of distance, “clumped together” hardly gives an accurate impression of the size of a galaxy.

Take our own galaxy The Milky Way as an example. Our Sun is just one of 200,000 million similar stars but to get from one side of the galaxy to the other, will you’d need to pack a big lunch.

Technically, it may be possible to build a craft that could travel close to the speed of light. It would have to be very large to accommodate enough fuel to burn constantly for several years, but eventually it could reach speeds approaching 186,000 miles per second. At this speed you could get to the middle (once you decide where exactly that is) in about 20,000 or maybe 30,000 years. If you went the other way, to visit another galaxy, well, they are rather a long way from each other so there’s probably not much chance of visiting another galaxy anytime soon.

In Universal terms however, galaxies are not that far apart and they tend to be in clusters too, anywhere from a couple of dozen to a several thousand. Virgo for example is a super-cluster and has something approaching 2,500 galaxies. Three of these galaxies are really giant ellipticals and each one is around a million light years across. Compare that against our own humble spiral’s 100,000 light years across. We’re actually in a relatively isolated group of only 50 galaxies including the Andromeda, which we will get to shortly.

We shouldn’t assume that seen one galaxy you’ve seen them all. Our home galaxy is the spiral type full of extra gas and dust with long arms in which new stars are being formed continuously. Other types have practically no gas clouds and have different shapes too, including lenticular, elliptical galaxies and irregular galaxies like the dwarf Sagittarius galaxy currently being  ”eaten” by the Milky Way. (It rotates through us at a right angle to the disc and every time it passes through, more stars are ripped off to become part of the Milky Way.)

Some of the small galaxies can have a mere 10 million stars. Ten million like our Sun. Imagine having a dollar for every million stars. If you owned a small one, you’d only have $10 but if you owned the Milky Way, you’d have $200,000. Now if you owned a really big galaxy, well the larger ones have up to 10 trillion stars Of course you would have to be careful how you treated the super black hole in the middle.

When galaxies meet, as ours will when it runs into Andromeda, at a leisurely 500 kilometres a second, there is little chance of stars directly colliding because of the space between t hem, but gravity will severely distort the shape of the combined mass. After they pass through each other and throw out a few unfortunate stars into intergalactic space, they will slow down, essentially stop and start moving back towards each other again for another collision. Eventually they will become one. Of course, we will not be around to witness the best bits as the process takes somewhere between a couple of hundred million years and a really long time.

12 billion years ago, after an unimaginable time span of 1,800 million years since the Big Bang, stars in this area ignite forming the Milky Way, our home galaxy

It’s somehow comforting to think we have neighbours, perhaps lots of them, in our locality. Our galaxy is a spiral, that is, a centre disc with 4 major arms and fairly big as galaxies go, nothing like the real big ones but not a tiddler either at 120,000 light years across.

If our Sun and Solar System was the size of a coin the Milky Way would be about the size of China or the US.

 

 

 

If you thought of it as a very big city 120 kilometres across, our suburb (which in addition to the Sun has another half a billion other stars probably all with their own solar system) is 27 kilometres out of town on the Orion–Cygnus arm. All up, as far as we know, there are between 200 and 400 million stars here, but you can’t just count them and on average, it produces one new star every year although that many probably close up shop too.

The main problem is that not only are we a fair way out of town, on one of the big avenues, there are three others just as big. (Actually we are not right on the avenue, more like a side street off one of the main avenues.)  To put that into perspective, if our Sun and Solar System was one inch disk (25mm) the Milky Way would be about the size of China or the US.

When you think that our solar system has 8 planets made up from the leftovers from the sun’s birth, it’s hard to imagine all those other suns out there don’t also have at least a handful of planets too. To add to the fun, recent data from the Kepler space mission points to planets that are not attached to stars, just wandering about, probably a couple of hundred million of them.

Getting back to planets doing the right thing, the data strongly suggest that there are up to 40,000,000,000 planets orbiting stars in the habitable zones and 11,000,000,000 of those look just like our Sun. This is just in our galaxy so all that adds up to a lot of neighbours, but don’t expect a visit tomorrow. The nearest star to us (other than the Sun obviously) would take more than four years to get to and that’s only if we can work out some way to travel at the speed of light and we don’t bump into a speck of dust or something a little larger. The closest one that might have an earth-type planet is 12 light years away.

The reason the neighbourhood has a milky look about it is that our vision has only evolved to help us find things to eat and avoid others that might want us for lunch. Our eyes did not evolve to see stars, which is why we can only see about 10,000 of them (all in the Milky Way, although some argue Omega Centauri is just outside our galaxy) meaning we can see one star in 40,000. (An exception is the temporary super-bright flash of the death of a star, a supernova). The light from the rest blends into the band of light we see on dark nights. The dark patches are caused by interstellar dust that masks the light from the stars.

It must have come as quite a surprise to Galileo, to see so many stars when he put his telescope up to his Mark-1 eyeball in the year 1610. He was the guy who worked out the earth was not the centre of anything and got belted up by the Catholic Church for saying so. All the way up to the 1920’s scientists thought the Milky Way was the only show in town.

Man, were they wrong, and by a margin that’s impossible to grasp. There are literally billions of other galaxies out there (170 billion to put a figure on it) most of them holding billions of suns and you can’t even see one star with the naked eye, only a few distant galaxies of stars.

By 11 billion years ago, the first stars in the Milky Way were 1,000 million years old and by 10 billion years ago, the galaxy had taken on its spiral shape, continuously creating new stars. It’s sobering to think that at this stage our Sun is still 5.4 billion years in the future.

At the 9.5 billion year mark, while some new stars are forming, some are already collapsed after burning up their hydrogen, but at this point, there are no planets yet. Half a billion years later and dying stars, red giants like the future for our Sun, fuse hydrogen into atoms of the 26 lightest elements, lithium, carbon, oxygen through to iron. Atoms of iron were now abundant in space.

At the 8.5 billion year mark, the big boys were making their mark, Supernovas, the death of massive stars, explode and form large quantities of the 60 heavy elements including silver, gold and  uranium. Vast amounts of these elements combine with iron to form rocky planets which now orbit close to new stars. Further out gas giants, too small to become stars, orbit.

Despite production of massive amounts of other elements, hydrogen and helium still make up 98% of reflective matter and now, at 6 billion years, the universe is already twice as old as planet earth will be, when it is born in another 1,360 million years forward of this time.

At 5 billion years ago, after more than 8 billion years have passed, a cloud of dust, gas and debris coalesce into a massive hot object in this outer region of our galaxy. A mere 400,000 years later, light emerges from the cloud and our Sun is born, and with it, a little planet we call home.

Size of the earth

‘Day’ 21. The Birth of The Sun

The History of the universe
‘Day’ 83. The First Real Fire in the Solar System

The planet Theia colliding with earth. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.

 

‘Day’ 25. The Day the Earth Crashed.

There are about 300 ‘Days’ of Earth History, listed in our ‘Diary of The Universe’ poster and it’s interesting to follow the development of our little patch. You can download the whole poster for printing.

All about The Moon. No, really.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. See what it looks like here.)

Day 25 – The Day The Earth Crashed

Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it.

the bookDay 25 was such a day and as important as days go, this one was especially memorable.

It was about 4,475 million years ago and it was a warm day, well, hot actually as the surface was mostly molten rock tipping the scales at around 1000 degrees centigrade. Our freshly minted sun was just a pup, only 150 million years old and had gobbled up most of the material in this particular part on the outer rim of this particular arm of this particular spiral galaxy in this particular cluster of galaxies, well, you get the idea.

The few scraps (0.14%) that were left over included the rocky bits, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Theia, ….. Theia? Yep, there was a planet called Theia zooming around the new sun, just as we were.

Among the others, all gas and no substance, poor old Jupiter couldn’t find enough hydrogen and helium to really get going as a star and other gassy ones, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were way out of contention for ‘star’ material.

We not sure about Theia’s orbit but we do know it was rocky and on a collision course with us because one fine morning, it arrived, tootling along at 5 times the speed of a bullet and smacked into the northern hemisphere of earth.

We know that because the collision tipped the earth over 24 degrees to the side, which turned out to be a very good thing for people who enjoy spring. Without that collision, we would have no seasons and I’d miss that.

If you were around on that day, you would have wanted to be standing well back behind the barrier because it made quite a bang with a large chunk of rock being blasted off into space. Unfortunately, lots of bits didn’t quite make it that far and a rain storm of disconsolate rocks began pelting down at an alarming rate. If ever there was a day to remember your hard hat, this was the one.

Over the next little while, most of the rocks that stayed ‘up there’ (a relative term as there is no up or down in space) became very attracted to each other and after mere 100 laps around the sun, a century as we know it, we had a moon.

We also had a fairly brisk day too and if you had been around to see it, you would have been able to watch the sun strolling across the sky because the day was only 3 hours from sun up, to sun down, that is, a 6 hour day.
This is because when Theia paid her visit, she came from our south west, hitting the top half a glancing blow that caused us to spin like a merry-go-round.
In the time that has elapsed since that fateful day, we have slowed down quite a bit to our familiar 24 hour day. Our orbit around the sun has slowed quite a bit since then too but that’s another story.

At this point, the moon was ‘right there’, in front of you, a mere 22,000 kilometres away. This is so close, it covers the sky so you would not be able to see any stars and the tide, well, if we had water, which we didn’t, suffice to say, the tides would have been memorable.Close moon. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.
As it happened, when our water was finally delivered, the moon was still incredibly close, by our standards today and yes, the tides were something to behold, 1,000 foot high and that’s after they died down a bit.

At the beginning the moon was sneaking off at a fair cracking pace but has slowed its escape now to just 38mm a year giving it an average getaway speed of 85mm a year, which is not much I hear you say, but it’s fast enough to have drifted 360,000 kilometres.

What future then for our pet rock? Well, that depends on the Sun which is planning some serious expansion in another half a billion years or so and it will be reaching out once a month trying to catch the moon as it orbits the earth.
By then, the orbit will be much wider and the ‘month’ will be longer too, probably about 42 days, so it’s all a bit of guess work at this stage. Unfortunately, the most likely scenario it will end up much like one of Saturn’s rings only rocks around the earth, not pretty ice crystals around Saturn.

AND, this is just a one line entry in what I believe is the greatest scientific gift poster that anyone could gift to a child. But that’s just my opinion.Dan Hughes. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.

The Big Bang Explained. Sort of

All about The Moon. Really.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. See what it looks like here.)

103 The Day Siberia Burned

Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it. Day 103 was such a day.the book

It was about 300 million years ago, just a regular 22.5 hour day and on that lovely sunny morning, on the plains of a future Siberia, a Thursday perhaps, the recent rumblings and shaking of the ground took a turn for the worse.

The newly evolved reptiles had developed into millions of species and the air was filled with insects, some absolute monsters.
The oxygen in the atmosphere had been building up now for quite a while, a far higher concentration than the modest levels that would eventually be the norm for the apes of the future who will enjoy a 24 hour day at 21%, no the oxygen level on this lovely sunny morning was about 35%-40%. A lot of oxygen is a good thing, right?

Well, yes, in the same way your plane’s full tank of fuel is a good thing, right up to when it catches fire, then maybe not so good.
Well, all this oxygen made it possible for creatures that get their oxygen through this skin, insects for example, to grow and grow they did. Courtesy Nat GeographicOn this fine sunny morning, there were dragonflies with wingspans like eagles filling the air and let’s not think too much about the local equivalent of mosquitoes.

But aside from the rumblings, life was getting on with what life does and there was no thought for the huge twin asteroids that were already on their way to crash into a future Canada. No matter, that was still a few millions years to go, so certainly no bother for the reptiles and insects.

The first sign of trouble was the smoke and gas arising from a patch of rather large trees. At that moment, the first of many mini volvanos broke the surface over thousands of kilometres of forest. There was going to be trouble and it was not just the trees that were burning and causing all that smoke that blocked out the sun, it was the coal. Vast clouds of thick black choking smoke rose into the upper atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and quickly spreading around the world.

Yes, the coal, just under the ground, stretching to the horizon in all directions and hundreds of feet thick, was on fire. All that oxygen was not helping either, but why was there so much coal, nearly two million square kilometres of it, as it happens?

wall of coal
An 80-foot wall of coal at a Peabody Energy mine in Powder River Basin in Wyoming. The company filed for Bankruptcy in early April 2016.
http://www.peabodyenergy.com/content/2627/media-center/image-gallery

The answer to that is, ‘termites’. Well not exactly, more the lack of termites. What had happened it seems, was that as plant life evolved on land, feeding on sunlight as it does, those that could grow taller got the most sunlight and lived to pass on this trait.
The only way to compete was to grow taller and so lignum had been invented, well, evolved actually a couple of hundred million years before this fine sunny morning. It’s a woody substance that stiffened up the stems of plants and in those days, allowed them to eventually to become trees.

Now here was a problem. You see, lignum is very, uhm, woody and hard to break down, to digest. As it hadn’t been around before, there was no creature large or small, that had evolved the dental hardware to handle it. No bacteria could touch it and termites were millions of years away, so the trees grew and grew, got old and died. That’s all the happened, they just lay there, intact. More trees fell on top and more on top of them, until vast swathes of the earth was covered with dead trees that got compressed and turned in the massive coal deposits of the world as we know it.

As the volcanic action spread across the land, lava flowed and coal burned, for centuries. For a few thousand years, the earth was dark and very cold. There was no sunlight to sustain the plants and most creatures on land and most in the oceans too, turned up their toes in one of the great extinction events we now call the Permian extinction.
Eventually, the lava flows stopped in many places and the fire burned out and the sun came back, just long enough to make use of all the recently released carbon dioxide to heat up the earth, in a hot house of global warming as never seen before. What life had managed to survive the dark and cold was now faced with soaring temperatures and bright sunlight. Actually, it was just a trick and the lava began to flow once more and the whole earth was turned back into a cold dark night that lasted for a few more centuries before doing it again, perhaps as many as seven horrible cycles over several thousand years of hot and cold, dark and light.

Yep, day 103 was a big one and it was all because of those dam termites.

AND, this is just a one line entry in what I believe is the greatest scientific gift poster that anyone could gift to a child. But that’s just my opinion.

Dan Hughes. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.What does the poster look like?

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print.)

The Big Bang Explained. Sort of.

(You can ignore the image. Light hadn’t been invented yet.)

Day 1

Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it. Day 1 was such a day.

the bookPerhaps the greatest understatement, serenely floating around in the nothingness (that was whatever it was before space was invented) is the term ‘Big Bang’. Nothing comes close to describing what happened in that first second, not atomic weapons, not exploding stars, not even supernovae.

If we cherish our understatements a little longer, it was hot. Not hot like anything that could be formed on a planet, not hot like the sun which by comparison is like standing next to the air conditioning on a coolish day, but really, really hot. So hot that nothing existed, not even sub-atomic particles and everything that was to come, the stars, the planets, the universe itself was packed into a space so small, by normal definition it did not even exist.
What triggered the blast may not be fully established yet, we have some competing hypotheses to work with, however it is fairly certain science will eventually create methods for testing so we can settle the matter.

What we do know is what happened in the time slot just after the ‘pop’ but like everything else on the subject, the time slot is impossibly short, far shorter than anything we mere humans can understand. (There is an hypothesis doing the rounds that quantum physicists, who do understand these things, are in fact, human too, just not ‘mere’.)
The first Planck after ignition (a Planck is like a fraction of a second but only much smaller, a billion, billionth etc.) was too hot to have nuclear forces or even gravity.(That’s 0.000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,01th of a second if you’re interested).

As Einstein explained nothing travels faster than the speed of light, but during this briefest of periods before the second Planck (I’ll skip the zeros but there are about 32 of them) we had space inflation which did just that. Perhaps it was because there was no light yet. It was so fast, the forces blasted out were moved apart more by the expanding space than by the explosion and none of that fits with what scientists already know.
Then we had some cooling down, to temperatures that are still so hot they are way beyond our comprehension and things like gravity, nuclear forces and electromagnetism were separated into individual forces in their own right. (To be a little more accurate, the first one out of the blocks was the weak nuclear force which broke loose in the 4 zeros between the 36th and the 32nd when the inflation ended.)

Particles popped into existence by the collisions of energy particles (which have no mass or ‘weight’) into bosons which converted the energy into a particle which actually has mass. (Remember Einstein famously proved that energy and mass are the same, as is E=Mc2).
There was no ‘something from nothing’ at least from the point where the ‘bang’ occurred as there was definitely a lot of energy (another understatement) so by default there was mass as they are the same thing.
From this point on, the ‘bang’ part continued in a more prim and proper manner, ending the ‘impossible’ phase that obviously will be tested and proved eventually, but from here, the explosion was more the way we understand things behave.
The rapidly expanding universe was full of what is described as ‘a quark-gluon plasma’ which sounds unpleasant and smelly but I have on good authority, was a good thing.
When three quarks get together (facilitated by the strong nuclear force which by now had also broken into a trot) for a ménage à trois’, the result is a proton or a neutron and as you know if you throw in an electron, you end up with an atom. Quarks come in colours (who knew?) and you need three different colours to make a proton. Quarks also identify as ‘up quarks’ and ‘down quarks’ and to get the tri-colour proton, you need two ‘ups’ and one ‘down’. Electrons, by the way, are quarks that don’t go in for that sort of thing and go solo. A bit prissy by all accounts.

By the time we get to 0.000,006th of the first second, positively dawdling along, we’re got the full Monty of forces, gravity, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism but it is still too hot for the quarks to have their love-ins.
For this we have to wait until the first second has fully passed and the temperature a little more temperate. Now the quarks go at it like rabbits and the universe starts to fill up with protons and neutrons, anti-protons and anti-neutrons. The protons and anti-protons are more common than the neutrons and anti-neutrons but the balance of each is the same. Almost. They all get along fine until the temperature drops. By the time 10 seconds or so has passed, we’ve got our first war and the pros and the antis cancel each other out.

Well almost. For reasons yet to be explained, slightly more protons and neutrons were produced than anti-protons and anti-neutrons. After the big cancellation event, only they survived.
The surviving protons and neutrons get together in different ratios making different atoms but the temperature is so high, we have nuclear fire everywhere and some of the combinations fuse into helium. Unbelievable to non-scientists, the temperature was actually falling and by the time 17 minutes had elapsed, the fire was out.

Helium. History of the UniverseAll the neutrons were now fused into helium leaving a lot of disconsolate protons who didn’t even have an electron for company at that stage and are identified as hydrogen ions, that is, protons without an electron. To us mere mortals, the word proton and hydrogen are essentially the same thing. There are variations on the theme but isotopes devolve into complexity we don’t need to understand on the first page in our diary (or any other page for that matter).

From 20 seconds to 380,000,000 years (that’s 380 million years) may seem a bit of a jump to us with our mini time scales but for the universe it wasn’t even late morning on ‘Day 1’ of our diary, when the hydrogen ions and the helium ions begin to capture electrons to become stable, electrically charged neutral atoms. Energy was turning into solid matter at last.
Unlike the electrons that joined the atom club, their cousins the neutrinos maintained their gypsy ways and as they have no mass, some are probably streaming through your body as we speak.
Another wanderer is the photon, particles we are more familiar with as light. They interact with the protons and neutrons but as the protons and neutrons coalesce into atoms, space becomes clear for the first time and photons of light can travel everywhere. They waste no time doing it. Quickly.

With the atoms settling into their new home and 380 million years to get their act together, they set about making babies, the first molecule.

AND…this is just one line from what I believe is the greatest scientific gift poster that anyone could gift to a child. But that’s just my opinion.Dan Hughes. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.

References and further reading
The First Molecule
Making a Star
The Big Bang in detail
The magic of helium
The quirky kinky life of quarks

If you would like to help me with this grand project, this project of great imagination, this almost impossible project of writing ‘the entire history of the universe and the earth’ – in chronological order, why not consider joining me?
I could use your help and your comments and guidance may be of great importance.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. What does the poster look like?)

Day 2 The First Molecule

(The DNA molecule pictured was not the first molecule)

Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it. ‘Day’ 2 was such a day.

the bookThings were pretty quiet on a Saturday night at the Universe bar 13,800,000,000 years ago. The protons and the neutrons had been busy capturing electrons for the last 380 million years, well most of it anyway, creating all the stable atoms we were going to need to make stars and planets and zebras. But that was getting a bit monotonous.

In the open reaches of space, vast clouds of stable atoms of helium and hydrogen would later coalesce under gravity to ignite the nuclear fires that become the galaxies of stars that have come and gone in the inconceivable length of time since the beginning, but for now, some were joining forces to create organic molecules.
At least the lights were on. Space was ‘clear’ now that the electrons were under control. Photons had previously been restricted by the unattached electrons floating about but now the electrons were bound up in atoms of hydrogen and helium (mainly) the photons were free to travel. Infinitely.

The period before this, before space was ‘clear’ is called, predictably, The Dark Ages. No prizes for imagination there. The roundup and capture of the electrons by the neutrons making the space soup clear is called The Recombination and the issue of the travel permits for the photons is called Decoupling.
Stable atoms of both hydrogen and helium were all over the place, but seen one you’ve seen them all. What the universe needed was some molecules and that’s exactly what was about to happen. Molecule. The History of the Universe
About 13,500,000,000 years ago, simple organic molecules were formed but before we get there we should look at the helium atoms.

Helium may be colourless, odourless and tasteless and settles for second place in abundance after hydrogen, but it has other redeeming features. It is virtually inert so it does not react with other materials and when compressed with hydrogen under sufficient gravity, it makes a wonderful star.
While the helium does not ‘burn’, it does make up about 24% of stars like our Sun (which is not due on the scene for another 8,900,000,000 years) but the fusion of the hydrogen component of the star makes more helium, eventually turning all the hydrogen into helium.
It really is a fascinating gas. Almost all the helium in the universe, despite all the new stuff being made by stars and the gas created by the degradation of uranium, was created in the first few minutes after the Big Bang.
It remains a liquid no matter how cold it gets and you need to add a considerable amount of pressure as well to make it a solid. Even so, it is difficult to tell the difference but it gets even weirder. As a liquid, helium is a superfluid which means it has no measurable viscosity. It can flow over, under or through almost anything, making it a little difficult to work with. In fact it will even crawl up the side of containers to escape. Try to imagine that.

Perversely it expands as it gets colder and it’s so crystal-clear, you need to float something like a piece of polystyrene foam on top so you can see the surface. At certain temperatures it will even leak through the solid bottom of a container.
Most space helium is the plasma version quite unlike what is found on earth. The charged particles show up here as part of the solar wind that provides us with the spectacular aurora at the poles.
Despite its abundance in space, helium, well known for its Donald Duck voice trick, is relatively rare on earth. Most of our local helium is a result of radioactive decay in minerals of uranium and thorium making about 3000 metric tons a year. In order to capture the gas, one needs to be attentive as when it is released, the earth’s gravity is not sufficient to stop it escaping into space.

It was first detected as part of the spectrum of sunlight in 1868, a few years later, an Italian named Palmieri found the first helium on earth when he was analysing the lava of Mount Vesuvius. The first significant quantities were found (in concentrations of 1 or 2%) in natural gas fields in America, still the largest supplier of the gas today.

The first primary use of helium was for air-ships, although later it became the gas of choice as a shield against oxygen in arc welding and handy for atomic bombs too. In 1927 America banned the export of what was a rare commodity and this forced the German Zeppelins to use hydrogen and we know how that turned out. By the mid 1990s, Algeria was producing enough helium to supply all Europe and is now the world’s second biggest producer.

Helium is used in purging containers, welding shielding, controlled atmospheres and leak detection but small amounts are also used in breathing mixtures for underwater work (and party balloons).
However, the main use for helium today is in cryogenics, primarily as a cooling liquid for the superconductor magnets in the medical world’s 25,000 MRI scanners. Within the MRI scanner, strong and uniform magnetic fields are produced which provoke the excited hydrogen atom protons in the water molecules of human tissue. This is what creates a signal that is processed to form an image of the body.

We’ve all heard of the largest of all molecules, DNA, but molecules come in more than a few types and sizes. At its heart though, a molecule is just two or more atoms that get together. In the case of DNA, a lot of atoms get together. While this is the standard way of defining a molecule, the exception is a branch of science called ‘the kinetic theory of gases’ where they often call any gas particle a molecule. When two atoms of hydrogen are connected, they form a homonuclear molecule, but when they are joined by an atom of oxygen we get a compound chemical called water. H2O.

Generally speaking, molecules are the basic elements of ‘soft’ matter, water, trees, animals, the atmosphere and are called organic molecules to emphasise the point.
‘Hard’ matter, rocks, metals, gems, diamonds, glass and salts are also made of atoms of course, but the atoms are chemically bonded in a different way so they have no identifiable molecules.

Molecules made of two part hydrogen to one part oxygen (water) were very plentiful and some formed in large clumps to become ice and dust comets. 380,000,000 years have passed since the Big Bang and now organic molecules are common throughout the universe and eventually, will be coming our way.

AND…this is just one line from what I believe is the greatest scientific gift poster that anyone could gift to a child. But that’s just my opinion.Dan Hughes. Everything important that ever happened. History of the Universe.

References and further reading
The Big Bang Explained
A Star in Born
Molecules in detail
Helium, yes it CAN flow uphill
The Recombination. Making space soup clear.

If you would like to help me with this grand project, this project of great imagination, this almost impossible project of writing ‘the entire history of the universe and the earth’ – in chronological order, why not consider joining me?
I could use your help and your comments and guidance may be of great importance.

(You can see ALL the interesting ‘days’ in the magnificent science poster which you can download and print. What does the poster look like?)

Day 3 – A Star Is Born

 
Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it. ‘Day’ 3 was such a day.

Gravity has pulled massive amounts of hydrogen and helium together. The first nuclear fires, the stars, are born.

Action at last. Frankly the last 560,000,000 years since the excitement of the Big Bang have been a bit boring. Sure the protons and neutrons were rounding up the electrons and forming into nice stable atoms and the atoms were getting together making interesting things like ice, but really, something more exciting is overdue. Continue reading Day 3 – A Star Is Born

Day 4. How To Make A Galaxy

Imagine if our universe was a book and on important days, someone opened the book and wrote about it. ‘Day’ 4 would have been such a day.

Essentially a galaxy is a whole lot of stars clumped together, but in terms of distance, “clumped together” hardly gives an accurate impression of the size of a galaxy.

Take our own galaxy The Milky Way as an example. Our Sun is just one of somewhere between 200,000 million and 400,000 million similar stars but to get from one side of the galaxy to the other, well you’d need to pack a big lunch.
Technically, it’s possible to build a craft that could travel close to the speed of light. It would have to be very large to accommodate enough fuel to burn constantly for several years, but eventually it could reach speeds approaching 186,000 miles per second. At this speed you could get to the middle of our galaxy (once you decide where exactly that is) in about 20,000 or maybe 30,000 years. Given that the distance between galaxies is many times more than the width of a galaxy, there’s probably not much chance of visiting another galaxy anytime soon. Continue reading Day 4. How To Make A Galaxy

Day 5 – The Milky Way

Imagine if our world had a diary and on the interesting days, someone pulled out a big book and wrote about it.

the bookDay 5.
It’s somehow comforting to think we have neighbours, perhaps lots of them, in our ‘city’ in the Universe, where there are between 200 and 400 million suns much like ours in town.

After an unimaginable time span of 1,800 million years since the ‘Big Bang’ stars in this area ignite forming the Milky Way, our home galaxy.

A discrepancy of 200 million stars is a tad less than accurate, but you can’t just count them.
The main problem is that our solar system is a fair way out of town, on one of the big avenues (the Orion–Cygnus arm) and there are three others just as big. (Actually we are not right on the avenue, more like a side street off one of the main avenues.)
Continue reading Day 5 – The Milky Way