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History of the Universe, Earth, Moon and Early Humans in 5 minutes

An artist's depiction of the Big Bang. Image by Gerd Altmanna from Pixabay

An artist's depiction of the Big Bang. Image by Gerd Altmanna from Pixabay

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Where did we come from and how did it all begin? This article attempts to answer these questions and more with a concise 14 billion-year creation model of the universe, galaxies, and stars, along with a look at the formation of the earth, its moon and the miracle of life.

The Big Bang a.k.a. Singularity before the Planck

Approximately 13.798 billion years ago, something inexplicable occurred. For a period of less than a centillionth of a second, singularity was achieved.

No one knows what existed before or how the moment arrived, but during that flash of singularity, there suddenly exists an infinite amount of energy within a point that ultimately imploded upon itself. This explosion is commonly referred to as the Big Bang, which is the current prevailing theory explaining the birth of the universe. In the moments after the Big Bang (called the Planck Epoch), time, space and matter were created.

The Aftermath: 10^-43 seconds after the Big Bang

The unimaginable heat (estimated to be upwards of a quadrillion degree Celsius), pressure and density from the explosion conspired to produce particles of both matter and antimatter, the primordial soup of creation, which expanded in all directions at the speed of light, a process that continues to this very day.

The resulting centillions of little collisions between particles of matter and antimatter ultimately saw the former gaining marginal dominance, and within fractions of a second, the highly radiated universe spawned its first solid matter, in the form of elementary subatomic particles – quarks, leptons, and bosons. Physicists, including Drs. Sheldon Cooper, Bruce Banner, and Reed Richards, have yet to figure out what precisely triggered this conversion of energy into matter.

The Advent of the Building Blocks: Between the 3rd minute and 300,000th year

After about 3 minutes, the temperature of the rapidly inflating universe cooled down to approximately 3,000 degrees Celsius, which facilitated the synthesis of the first composite particles in the universe – protons and neutrons. Over the next 300,000 years, these particles reacted with each other to nucleosynthesize the hydrogen isotopes – deuterium, beryllium, and tritium. Before long, the two key building blocks of the universe, hydrogen, and helium, emerged.

Star Light, Star Bright, Star Died: Between 13 and 4.5 billion years ago

As the universe continued its expansion and cooling (down to 1,700 degrees Celsius), more complex and heavier elements bonded into existence. Once the elements start to populate space, another significant component of the universe began to manifest its influence – gravity. The gravitational perturbations began to force the free-floating gaseous matter to cluster together.

Over time, these clusters, constrained by an ever stronger gravitational pull, grew greater until it eventually morphed into shapeless burning objects, a.k.a. stars. The clustering effect of gravity continues on the stars, forcing the formation of even larger clusters which ultimately became galaxies.

Meanwhile, the stars within the galaxies are continuously attracting newer and heavier elements (including water and minerals) from nearby space. The process will eventually trigger a massive nuclear reaction, resulting in supernovas.

Image of RCW 86, which is the oldest supernova known to men. The explosion of RCW 86. which is located is approximately 8,000 light-years away, was witness by the Chinese circa 185 A.D. The supernova remained visible in the night sky for a period of over eight months. The multi wave length image above is combined from four different space telescopes, namely, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), WISE Telescope and XMM-Newton Observatory. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/CXC/SAO.
Image of RCW 86, which is the oldest supernova known to men. The explosion of RCW 86. which is located is approximately 8,000 light-years away, was witnessed by the Chinese circa 185 A.D. The supernova remained visible in the night sky for a period of over eight months. The multi-wavelength image above is combined from four different space telescopes, namely, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), WISE Telescope and XMM-Newton Observatory. Image courtesy of NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/CXC/SAO.

These blindingly brilliant supernovas signal the death of stars, and one of the crucial side effects is the expulsion of solid matter from its core. The excretions, combined with free-flowing dust clouds and gaseous matter, began to slowly coalesce around each other, forming planetesimals and planetoids.

Millions of years, planetesimals and planetoids later, the universe was treated to another series of creation – asteroids, comets, and planets. Approximately 4.6 billion years ago, our galaxy, the Milky Way, came into existence during a similar process, along with our very own GV2 class star, the sun. Within 100 million years, the leftover dust and gas clouds from the sun’s formation coalesced into the solar system, and along with it, earth.

Third Rock From The Sun: Between 4.5 billion and 3.5 billion years ago

At its birth, the earth was a world of molten lava and volcanic eruptions. There was no atmosphere, no settled land, no ocean, and the surface temperature could melt iron. This hellish landscape lasted for a billion years until the planet’s surface temperature cooled down sufficiently enough to allow the condensation of water vapor. With a sharp decrease in volcanic activities, the ocean and land soon began to form. Before long, the planet generated a protective atmosphere around itself, which drastically filtered the dangerous rays of the sun. And then something miraculous happened!

Trivia: During the earth’s early days as a planet, it collided with the hypothetical planet Theia. The debris from the collision clustered together, eventually forming our good ol’ moon. The presence of the moon is cited by many as one of the key factors behind the earth’s orbital and axial stabilization. Simply put, no collision = no moon = an unstable earth = less chances for creation of life.

Life As We Know It: Between 3.5 billion and 25 million years ago

To put it simply, no one knows what precipitated the emergence of the prokaryotes, a unicellular organism that is universally acknowledged as the first living organism on the planet. But emerged it did, and several hundred million years later, the more complex, genetic code-carrying eukaryotes made an entrance. Life gradually became more intricate, and between one to two billion years ago, the first plant life, algae, arose.

The third and final miracle occurred just before the Cambrian period, about 550 million years ago; the unexplainable emergence of sentient simple animal life that ate, grew and reproduced. Over the next 400 million years, these simple animals went on an evolutionary spree; from metazoans to anthropods to fishes to insects to amphibians to reptiles and finally, to mammals.

Along the way, an ecological pattern was established to accommodate the coexistence of animals and plant life. At one point, it appeared that dinosaurs would be the dominant species on earth. However, as luck would have it, 66 million years ago, an asteroid measuring about 10km in diameter crashed somewhere near the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. In the resulting days, weeks and months, a thick layer of dust covered the earth’s atmosphere, effectively blocking sunlight from entering the planet.

Without sunlight, the global temperature plummeted rapidly, and plant life could not perform photosynthesis, leading to a dramatic decrease in oxygen levels. After several months, the surface temperature skyrocketed. When the dust finally settled a couple of years later, over 75% of all animal and plant life forms on the planet were extinct, including all the dinosaurs. For the next 45 million years, the planet mended itself, and nature produced a plethora of new flora and fauna to replace their long-extinct ancestors.

Planet of the Apes: Between 25 million and 200,000 years ago

Statistically speaking, the arrival of the great apes (Hominidae) was a non-event. They were just another in a long line of animal life forms churned out by nature.

However, over the next 25 million years, the hominids underwent a major evolutionary leap which culminated with the arrival of the Homo sapiens – the direct descendant of modern humans – approximately 200,000 years ago.

The bipedal creatures, with substantially larger brain sizes and opposable thumbs, immediately stamped their mark on nature and achieved interspecies supremacy.

Modern Family: Between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago

There are numerous theories concerning the point of origin of humanity, and their subsequent migration patterns. Not surprisingly, there are strong elements of regionalism and culturalism behind the various hypotheses put forth. What we know for certain is, based on data obtained from DNA sequencing, the common ancestor of modern humanity is a female from East Africa, now commonly referred to as the Mitochondrial Eve. There is a strong likelihood that the Mitochondrial Eve is the lineal ancestor of the San people that is found throughout Eastern Africa today.

The great debate over the actual cradle of human civilization may not reach a satisfactory conclusion anytime soon. However, the often-overlooked discovery of cupules in the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetaka in India in 1957 indicates the presence of a prehistoric writing culture dating back to the Upper Paleolithic period (circa 50,000 years ago). This predates all other civilizations by a country a mile and then some.

40,000 to 45,000 years later, multiple civilizations began to sprout throughout the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Europe. These civilizations, which included the Indus Valley (3,600 BC), Mesopotamian (3,200 BC), European and Chinese Bronze Age (3,100 BC), Egyptian (3,100 BC) and Olmec (2,500 BC) civilizations, are viewed by many as the foundation of humanity’s modern geopolitical, cultural and sociological construct.

And exactly 13.798 billion years after the Big Bang (give or take several hundred million years), David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ruined the final season of A Game of Thrones.

 

Song of the day: Train – Drops of Jupiter

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