What Are the Odds? The Earth's Improbable Journey Through Time
The first image taken of the Earth and Moon together
All humans are descended from one pair of ancestors, Rangi and Papa, who are also called Heaven and Earth. In those days, Heaven and Earth clung closely together, and all was darkness. Rangi and Papa had six sons: Tane-mahuta, the father of the forests and their inhabitants; Tawhiri-ma-tea, the father of winds and storms;
Maori Story of Creation, New Zealand
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
Genesis Chapter 1:2
The Vast emptiness of space is hard to imagine. The University of Toronto's Astrophysics department used solar and rock mass to make a model of the universe. Our best estimates often fall short. There are 30 billion light years on each side, if one is to assume that the universe is a cube. That means the entire universe contains about 2.7E+31 cubic light years. That means that only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of the universe contains any matter. If you took twenty of the world's tallest skyscrapers and covered one corner of one building with a tablespoon of dust, you would have as close to a model of the universe as we can best estimate.
And there we are. A special pale blue dot which has marvelously blinked life into existence. It's an amazing and almost improbable place. If even ONE thing had gone differently, if even one extinction event had been any longer, if even ONE meteor misses the planet by 1/10th of a degree 65 million years ago, earth would be a planet inhabited by dinosaurs. We have defied the odds.
Charles Darwin wrote that the animals most likely to survive an ‘’Extinction Event will not be the strongest or the most intelligent, but the one most adaptive to change.’’ His work, ‘’The Origin of Species’’ was truly a revolutionary book. And - it came at a time in history when the age of exploration and discovery was taking off. Colonial Europe was feeding the masses with stories of exotic terrains and curious animals. The staircase of life began to unfold in many different directions, as more and more evidence of early man began to appear. As cultures migrated from place-to-place, they spread their knowledge.
Darwin challenged the conventional idea that God made every species perfect in its creation. It was clear to him that species were and are still made, imperfectly. The young scientist opened up a Pandora's box of questions. He dipped his toes in the waters of the idea that every living thing on the planet may have had a common origin. With his vastly imaginative mind, he was able to put life on earth into a perspective never even seen before.
In the progress of the idea of evolution we witness a uniquely modern phenomenon in the progress of science. Modern science has brought forth new instruments of publicity and the methods of intellectual diffusion are spread through wider and more public forums. If anything, the abundance of new ideas was bound to expose revolutionary ideas.
So on a sunny July day in London, a scientific organization called the Linnean Society prepared to publish the words of Charles Darwin twenty years after his voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The moment that these words appeared - they spread quickly and with the ease of a modern day newspaper, were read far and wide across the globe. If only Darwin had known the impact he would have.
But there is a larger question of how all of this ties together. From space exploration to deep sea investigation, we stand at the very beginning of our understanding. The more we learn and discover, the more we soon realize how LITTLE know, and how much there is to discover.
Darwin merely cracked open the door to peak out onto a brave new world. The more that was revealed, the greater the implications. The improbable manner in which life appeared on this planet has a genesis all of its own. And yet we have learned that we are here because we defied the odds. For us to be here today, an endless series of linear events HAD to happen, and in the order it happened, all the way until this very day. The odds are completely insurmountable.
Me with a Second Edition of Charles Darwin's ''Origin of Species''
In his book, ''The Origin Of Species'', Darwin writes of his observation of various birds he encountered in the Galapagos Islands. After touring the islands Darwin noticed something about Finches that were of a curiosity to him. They all had different beaks and lived in different environments. Darwin wondered just how this could happen with one species of bird. And then he uncovered a clue to one of the great secrets of life.
If the only food source on an island were hard and tough ground nuts, the finches grew short, sturdy beaks. If the only food source on an island is in the nectar of flowers, the finches grew long and graceful beaks. Darwin noticed these changes and put together his idea of Natural Selection. And it works because of DNA.
DNA is the molecular machine that ties all living things together. Think of it as our Biological Scripture or Bar-Code. And within each strand of DNA, is 100-Billion Atoms within. We are, each of us, a universe onto ourselves. The DNA is copied with extreme care. The birth of a new DNA molecule begins when an unwinding protein breaks apart the double helix. The rungs are broken apart and the molecular letters are separated. When a DNA strand breaks, the four basic building blocks, the letters of life are freed from their captivity, only to reproduce an identical new strand of DNA.
THE ROLE OF VIRUSES IN EVOLUTION
The DNA is copied and duplicated but it doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes, mutations occur.
One of the recent findings suggests that Viruses played a role in altering cellular life. A virus is a complicated thing. They are kind of like little robots that attach themselves to a host cell, then inject their own replicating information into the cell that causes the cell to destroy itself from within.
This theory couldn't have been done without a management of big data. Utilizing numerous algorithms, it was discovered that an astonishing 30 percent of all protein adaptations since humans' divergence with chimpanzees have been driven by viruses. It was a surprising discovery.
The study was recently presented ay the Allied Genetics Conference and the findings were controversial to say-the-least. The study also sheds light on certain longstanding biological mysteries, such as why closely related species have evolved different machinery to perform near identical cellular functions, such as DNA replication or the production of membranes. The implications are great - and we are using these findings to address HIV.
With each mutation, we have to adaptive or we die. A small random change in genetic construction can sometimes mean the difference between color of skin and fur, wings to arms, arms to hands, life and death. The environment that Darwin presented was that Selection is natural (hence Natural Selection) and that species are both limited and freed by this.
‘’ This theory is also strengthened by some few other facts in regards to in states; as by that comment case of closely allied, but distinct species when inhabiting distant parts of the world, and living under considerably different conditions of life while often retaining nearly the same instincts.
For instance, we can understand, on the principle of inheritance, how it is that the thrush of tropical South America lines up its nest with mud, in the same peculiar manner as those are British thrush; how odd is that the hornbills of Africa and India have the same extraordinary instincts of plastering up and imprisoning the females in a hole in the tree with only a small hole left in the plaster through which the males feed them and the young one hatch: how it is the male Wrens of North America build cock-nests to roost in like the males of our kitty-wrens ---- a habit unlike that of any known bird.
Finally it may not be a logical deduction, but not to my imagination it is far more satisfactory to look at such instances young cuckoo rejecting his foster brothers, ants making slaves of other ants and subsequently making them sterile, the larvae of ichneumonidae – feeding them with the live bodies of caterpillars--not as especially endowed are created instincts, but a small consequences of one general law leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely that they multiply, vary, and let the strongest live and let the weakest die.’’
Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy and Cosmology are only a few of the sciences that we have to understand in order to get to the very topic of life itself. Darwin did so much with so little science that had he known now what he did not know then, it is hard to imagine what he could have accomplished.
Darwin Answers His Critics on Natural Selection
‘’The Origin of Species’’
So how is it that life is so incredibly different and yet so closely tied to one another? The answer is in diffusion. We all began as single-celled organisms that went through chemical changes and caused the rise of certain gasses in our atmosphere. Imagine a step-ladder that suddenly loses a small series of steps and is replaced by a slightly different set of steps. That’s how organic biology explains our differences.
DNA gets damaged and the missing section is patched up with a perfect copy - but sometimes a different group of nucleotides fills in, giving us such diversity. Of all the mutations of DNA, the most important is the most simple. You have to be multicellular. Perhaps the biggest change was in the ability to make and sustain energy.
Two-Billion years ago photosynthesis happened. It was actually a mutation. The first bug was called Psiano-Bacteria, which turns green. It is vital in recycling nutrients such as the fixation of nitrogen and putrefaction. In the hydrothermal vents and cold seeps, bacteria provide the nutrients needed to sustain life by converting dissolved compounds – such as hydrogen-sulphide and methane, to energy. It seems almost improbable - but indeed everything happened in a precise manner.
Once bacteria could replicate and recreate copies of itself – and copies of its mutations, bacteria was able to break free. When copies are made, it releases a bi-product we know today as oxygen. This happens to be a poison to most life. The creatures that survived were able to make the most of the oxygen and they could burn and evolve more rapidly. Single-celled organisms clustered together and different cells grew to be specialized and organs were being developed. Meanwhile, the chemistry of the planet was changing.
Even the trees tell us how close we are genetically. The method in which we break down sugars is identical. That is because the instructions for breaking down sugars is so basic, it is universal in ALL living things. For three and half billion years, changes in the molecular structures of living things have changed and evolved. Our genetic differences provides the mechanism for our ongoing creation, evolution. With millions of living things on this earth, many of which haven’t even been identified! Evolution created clever ways to survive. Camouflage, changes in physical shape, vision, hearing, etc…
But it is the rise of the mammals that bring humanity into existence. Somewhere around 250-Million years ago, small mammal like animals were burrowing into the ground and nocturnally hunting while their number one competition for food, the reptiles saved energy in the cool of the night. Their sight was poor given the fact they didn't need to see great distances, but their senses of smell were very sharp. We know this because we have seen the sinus cavities of the early mammals and they represented a huge break from their previous ancestors - the fish.
After a period of several dozen million years, the dinosaurs began to really outnumber everything and the mammals looked like they would be reduced to second existence. That would all change one day in the Yucatan when a meteor struck the peninsula 65-million years ago.
650-Million Years ago single celled organisms lived just beneath the waters surface. Exposed to gamma-ray bursts the cellular organisms mutated and organisms went from one cell to multiple cells, and the more cells led to greater specialization. Soon the cell for breathing stood on its own. This followed by an apparatus with which to digest food more efficiently and derive more nutrients out of them. This specialization continued for 150-Million more years.
And then - 500 Million years ago a tiny worm-like creature split from the rapidly changing multicellular organisms and provided an indo-skeletal build. This was the beginning of the humanity. A backbone and jaw came from early fish; Lungs came from amphibians; reptiles have watertight skin, and early mammals donated a bigger brain, sharper senses and the manner in which they are born. The hands and color vision came from fruit eating primates and larger brain and greater intelligence came from the first humans.
The force of that specific destruction killed off almost every living beast, with the exception of smaller animals and a few reptiles that managed to survive below the surface.
Many people aren’t exactly comfortable with the acutely intricate manner in which evolution works. We naturally want to assign a being greater than ourselves to help explain the mysteries of biological and genetic creation. But it needn’t be this way. It’s perfectly acceptable to look at creation and evolution as something so complex and vast that only God could do it! Both beliefs can be simultaneous.
Our Life Giving Star - Are We Alone?
Everything we know of on this planet was created by the sun. It generated everything that we are made of today. Even the atoms in our sun is made up of other star-dust. We live in an age of stars but it will come to an end one day. Hydrogen fusion and gravity are at war with one another. Inside the sun, fusion wants to rip the star apart, and gravity holds it together. It is a delicate power struggle in a dynamic stand-off. Hydrogen atoms naturally repel one another.
But when they are smashed into one another at great forces, the hydrogen atoms fuse, and then release a huge amount of energy. Although fusion itself last a fraction of a second, when it is complete, a new atom is created....helium. It will continue for billions of years until finally the element Iron is made. Once iron is made, it signals the death of the star. Iron does not fuse and so all of that energy used to fuse hydrogen is wasted. The presence of Iron on our planet tells us that our own star is dying. The last element to burn in the sun will be its first - Hydrogen. And, once this happens, there is nothing left to fuse together.
The sun has transformed even during the lifespan of our planet. Born in violence and dying in epic explosions, the building blocks of everything around us begins, and ends with our own sun.
In 2004, NASA launched the Spitzer-Space Telescope. It was sent on a journey to look at the inside of the Nebulae through infrared images. Swirling hydrogen gas combined with gravity and then time are the recipe for new stars. Gravity compressed matter and heated it up.
It then compresses the hydrogen gas and makes it so dense that the sphere is now accelerating and spinning faster. Hydrogen begins to spew out of the poles. The temperature of the core reach fifteen-million degrees, causing atoms of gas to fuse together, releasing massive amounts of energy. And just like that - a star is born. For the next hundred-million years, the star will shine over the orbital rocks that have been pulled close to it due to gravity.
Spitzer sees in infrared. When we see the universe in infrared we pick up heat and temperature. It allows us to see a weather map of extraterrestrial planets. This unique space telescope sees things that we cannot see. The internal heat of the planet allows us to measure the temperature and measure winds on these exoplanets. A small shift in the way the light appears indicates wind-speed, and in the case of one of our nearest neighbors, we see that wind speeds can often be in excess of 6000-mph. Spitzer has shown us that in one planet in-particular, our closest neighbor appears to be a nightmarishly hot and windy hell.
Almost five billion years ago a newborn star was surrounded by debris and space dust. Gravity caused the smaller rocks to collide with the bigger rocks. Over and over again this cycle was repeated until we had a planet, lifelessly spinning around the sun. 4.54 Billion years ago our planet was an incredible 3000-degrees Fahrenheit. There was carbon dioxide and ammonia in the air. The newborn planet is an incredible boiling ball of burning lava. A young planet called Thea – traveling twenty times faster than a bullet, is heading straight for the earth. The gravity distorted and pulled the earths surface and then, with a glancing blow, completely changed our planet.
<-------- The Spitzer Telescope gave us our first glimpse of what happens inside the Nebulae when a star is born
The sun has an estimated seven billion years of Hydrogen left. As soon as it runs out, the star will expand and its core becomes dangerously unstable. With no hydrogen left to fuse, it now fuses Helium into Carbon and the sun's outer layer begins to collapse.
The most violent explosion in the universe takes place. Almost instantly, new elements are born. Gold, Silver, Oxygen, Iron and many others are born and they in turn, give birth to us. Dying stars have given us the amazing gift of life.
At the heart of a White Dwarf is a huge core of carbon - densely packed. It is, in effect, the largest diamond, forged due to incredible pressure, high heat and an incredible factory of energy.
A blast wave trillions of tons in the works raced into space. The earth was reeling from the impact. But in the incredibly short time of just a thousand years, gravity spun the debris into a ring, and ultimately into our moon. The impact shielded the earth from more heat and it sent the earth spinning so fast that the day was just six hours long and the moon looked four times the size it does now as it began to spin away. It must have been a spectacular sight.
By now, the earth is beginning to cool and rock forms are beginning to develop. The geologic time-scale is very hard to understand. We live our lives in a measurement called years, or the length of time determined by the amount of times the earth orbits the sun. We are broken down into weeks, days, even minutes and seconds. But in geologic time-scale, the years are millions, and even billions.
On a clear night, if you are lucky, you can see 3000 stars. With a pair of binoculars you can see another 3000. With even a remedial telescope, you can see tens of thousands of them. Our humble sun is a powerful ball of superheated gas that has dominated the visible skies. Compared to other stars our sun is small. They burn in different colors too. And sometimes they orbit in pairs, around one another.
What are the odds? We are one planet in a tiny corner of space. We continue to find other planets, but none with our unique atmospheric chemistry. One planet has a huge glowing fire ball of heat coming from within.
Just to give you an idea of how improbable our existence is, take into account a planet called WOS-12B. This is a huge planet that has an orbit inside of Mercury. This planet roasts inside such an orbit and it is so hot that it absorbs light. The temperature of this planet is scorching. Deep inside, a mixture of Titanium Oxide erupts form its core. It is so seemingly close to its parent star that it is 40% more massive than Jupiter and gravity keeps it close to the parent star. Planets of this size are almost never inside such a tight orbit.
This is one of the most violent environments we have encountered, and yet it is ripping apart. Here we stand, on the cosmic shores of a huge ocean, and we are left with an inhospitable landscape unfit for life. But we are left with questions....These planetary roller coasters, orphans, and travelers through the lonesome emptiness of space only serve to isolate ourselves.
WOS-12B is not alone. Many planets this size, battered by supersonic winds and hotter than anything we have ever seen, are prolific in the universe. They are everywhere. Other gas giants will ride the vast sea of darkness. These rogue planets are all gas giants thus far. Very few like us have been discovered as of yet.
Another alien world, a small rock-like planet called Quoro-7B, are potential homes for life. But instead, we find more weird and nightmarish planets. Disappointed, we continue to search for life. This planet is two-hell's in one.
Its surface is a liquid furnace at 4700 degrees. Lava vaporizes the atmosphere and when cooler air comes in, it began to rain fire from the side. The locked planet has one side facing the sun and one side facing the darkness all the time. This planet is the remains of a gas giant.
The heavens were nothing more than Hydrogen gas, spinning and turning until they became stars. Half-a-Billion years after the Big Bang, Hydrogen atoms were moving so rapidly that they collided. And when they collided, they became Helium Atoms. The collisions were rapidly changing the molecular structure of atoms until they became Argon. And Argon’s atoms began to collide so much and with such great speed that the next element was born, Krypton.
Bursts of energy ultimately created Carbon, Nitrogen and Calcium. But these stars pay an enormous price – they explode and spew star-dust blasting through space. Sometimes the star dust swirls around another body that has a strong gravitational pull. Over hundreds of millions of years, the swirling matter and debris is sucked into the spinning sphere. If you can imagine this, then you have just imagined the creation of the earth. Whether by design or luck, or a combination thereof, the earth faced insurmountable odds in the vacuum of space.
Once earth is created, it is a lifeless, spinning rock. It’s pretty much the way you imagined the moon may years ago. But over time, volcanoes began to erupt as continents crashed into one another. The energy released by continental plates crashing headlong into one another is tremendous and we get a taste of this energy whenever we feel an earthquake. Volcanoes are all over our planet and forming all the time. Spewing toxins into the atmosphere, these volcanoes changed temperatures and drenched the planet with the chemicals of life.
In this early period of our planet, Megastorms were common. With the moon so close to the earth, huge tidal waves would be the norm. But through the lightening and thunder, water is created. Life-giving liquid would form in small pools. But the earth was still blazing hot and the atmosphere was toxic.
The planet then entered a new and violent phase, 3.8 Billion Years ago. Meteors began to rain down on the planet. Carrying minerals and amino acids, they exploded into our atmosphere and mixed with the chemicals already here and formed a chemical soup. This chemical soup is the basis for all life on this planet.
We live in the Interstellar Golden Age. At no other time in the geologic time-scale is so good for human life. We live in an age when the beautiful stars illuminate the night sky. Long dead stars created the planets. What are the odds? Everything that is created comes from the belly of a dying star. This is a brief blink of an eye that we happen to live in. Life everywhere is a reminder that this is the ideal time to be alive. The seasons of interstellar evolution are changing and we are in the middle part of summer now. Soon, fall will be upon us, and then, winter.
All of these things are the premise of the great question - What are the odds that the impossible would not only be possible, but that we would flourish too? What are the odds?
Human Beings and Time
And then we come up against the issue of time. Darwin didn't have the influence of an Einstein to help him, but if he did, he would have realized one of the key things that separate man from the animals. This is the ability to define time. Our brains are able to take snapshots of events, but time is a dimension that really has no limitation. All of time already exists up to now. In Einstein's description of time - all of the events are already laid out. We experience life's events uniquely from one another based on our own observation. Our own experiences are angled specifically for you.
Space and time are snapshots of our individual experiences. Time never stops, but our brains can only determine the present. If all of time were to happen at once, couldn't we manipulate time and change our past? Past, Present and Future are the result of what our brains process as NOW. The present is the most recent information and the past is what we have experienced. Historians use trends in history to determine the present.
In the natural world, the challenges are more severe. Natural selection is the computation of the present in order to survive. Even the most intelligent animals have a rudimentary idea of time. But in order to evolve, our brains had to gain the perception of the Present and the Future in order to organize time so that we could plan, predict, and execute the act of hunting. And this is a key for survival.
The possibilities of time and destiny are astounding. Let's suppose that you want to have a cup of tea before you go to sleep. Nothing you can do during the moment can change what you have done in the past. Certain events earlier in the day cannot have happened any differently, or you wouldn't be having your tea. You may think you have a choice, but you don't. Even though you don't realize it in the present, it is just that it is impossible to do anything that could prevent you from having your cup of tea. The past has to be consistent with the sequences of events that have already taken place. Everything that happens today is a result of the exact sequence of events form our pasts.
Consider cooking a fine meal. Good cooks know what spices are needed to make the finished product. If you are going to make a Pumpkin Soup, you KNOW the ingredients you need. You know you need pumpkin, nutmeg, allspice, salt, pepper, chicken broth and cream of wheat. If you put anything else into the soup, you get a bad Pumpkin Soup. In fact, you don't get anything that could be actually called a Pumpkin Soup. The finished product has been made before you even begin, because you KNOW what it will take, and you even understand the processes of preparation. The ability to think in abstracts such as time is unique to the human species, So, can knowing the future change the past?
The direction of time itself is a mystery. But everything we observe points to time only having one direction - forward. The past is but a moment which has become a snapshot in our memory. But if time IS a dimension like Einstein says, then the past still exists - somewhere. It remain out of reach for us now, but perhaps our brains will evolve into something that allows us to see in three and perhaps four dimensions. Perhaps there are more species of humans still yet to appear. Imagine if they will have much higher capabilities of understanding time.
The next species will do what it can to survive, unlike modern humans, who seem to want to do what it takes to destroy itself. What takes place in our past becomes imprinted somewhere, and one day we may learn to weave the past and present and future together and actually positively change for the better. This is to indicate that all of life is still evolving, still adapting, still growing.
What Determines Life?
Look around you....Everything you see around you has a common origin. Everywhere we look in the universe we see the same things following the same rules. The entire universe is made up of chemicals that appear in different proportions. These chemicals become living organisms and it is a biological miracle that we are connected to everything in the universe.
How can life be so seemingly random? Are there other worlds like our own just waiting to be discovered? When we peer out into the skies, we see trillions of stars and one profound question --- Is there life out there, somewhere? We have already discovered more than 700 planets in the heavens. But of all these exoplanets, none are like ours. We are the rarity amongst the heavens. While there could be millions of these exoplanets in the universe, none has the proper distance and rotation to sustain life. and
After the Big-Bang, the universe is little more than a vast cloud of hydrogen gas. Soon, the stuff of the universe gets compacted into stars. Deep inside the cores of these early stars hydrogen is compressed and fused into other elements. So powerful were these fusions that helium was created and a burst of energy was the result. Even the atoms in each of us come from these fusions of chemically rich star-dust matters that make us the product from multiple interstellar explosions.
Blasted through space, these now complex atoms pepper the galaxies with all of the things within each of us, and in each and every living thing that has ever existed on the planet. One particular cloud compressed into its own ball of gas, and that would become our sun.
One can imagine that the earth in this state of existence would be a formidable place. While everything was beginning to have a more uniform look to it, there was a unique event occurring just beneath us.
Life is separated from rocks in three distinct ways. The first is in the metabolizing of energy. A system of chemical reactions that create energy are essential. The second is in its protective nature or outer shell and the third is in the genetic blueprint to recreate. The plans to make more power sources are the key instructions of our living beings.
DNA is the metabolizing plan. It is our unique blueprint, made of extremely diverse traits. The DNA creates what we know as a Lipids, a protective shell around the DNA. It is a long molecule built up from smaller units called nucleotides. And within this is the creative ability to reproduce. And there you have it – the very fist basic form of life is created in the first cell. It is an amazingly simple chemical reaction. There are twenty amino acids, a few nucleotides for making DNA and RNA, and a few lipids.
Until the 1950s, the belief was that all living things came from a biological reaction. After all, this was life. But chemist Stanley Miller produced an experiment that showed that these reactions were not just biological in nature. He took water and volcanic gasses and other organic materials and added an electrical spark- lightning. The result was a foul-smelling liquid that had the chemicals needed for life. The lighting caused a chemical reaction that produced ‘Amino Acids.’’ This was a major breakthrough that began to separate Theology from Science.
If the theory was correct, the question arose as to whether these molecules might still exist in space, before the earth was created. Then, in the 1960s, a meteorite landed in Australia. It was a stunning event. The rock had that distinctive smell that the creation in the lab had produced. But a careful examination showed that the building blocks of life were very much a part of this ancient reaction. There were amino acids, fatty molecules, and incredibly, there were the basics of DNA. And – these building blocks were found everywhere.
While having these building blocks is important, they still need to be put together.
Over 4-billion years ago the young earth was not a good place to live. Utterly inhospitable for life, the planet was a chemical soup of poisonous materials. It did have its land and oceans. The newly formed moon loomed much larger in the sky than it does now, causing huge tides. With volcanic gasses and extreme temperature swings, and rock-pools of steamy water. Each time the waters receded it heated and evaporated. The concentrated form of molecules were forced to interact wit one another.
In these rock-pools, Lipid molecules were floating free. But compressed in a rock-pool these fatty molecules stuck to one another to form membranes which would become a proto-cell. As the pools evaporated, the fatty molecules formed a protective barrier around the other building blocks for life, proteins necessary for life. The environment concentrated the molecules but they didn’t account for Ultraviolet rays from the sun.
This intense radiation would have destroyed any DNA that evolved form these rock pools. It seems like they needed to form in a place where UV rays couldn’t break down the protective walls that the single-cellular organisms had built. There was just no way in which these things could survive in these circumstances. And yet, it was a unique manner in which evolution defined energy. The way we use energy is what drives complexity in human life.
Deep under the sea are these hydrothermal vents. When we examined them in the 1990s, we were shocked to see that there was ecosystems of life – far beneath the sea and more bizarre than anything we had ever seen. Here is a world of non-stop volcanism that is a reminder of how inhospitable our planet once was.
The moon was much larger in the skies than it is today. In fact, almost 1/5th of the evening skies were covered by the lunar satellite. The moon is in-fact moving away from the earth even today. The tides were radical and the temperature was much hotter due to the vast amount of radiation still on the planet. If we take into account the development of life on the earth, we must take into account how desperately void of life the planet actually had.
Panspermia is the idea that life began somewhere else and was delivered here via space rocks. It is a hypothesis that seems to offer a plausible answer for many things. Are the origins of life as universal throughout the universe as it might seem? Do the laws of chemical reactions and physics apply everywhere in space?
The theory states that a game of cosmic pinball 4.7B years ago and a hail of giant asteroids hit the planet. It was a cataclysmic event. But the earth wasn’t the only planet in the firing zone. With an evolutionary head-start, Mars could have been home to hearty bacteria inside the rocks. These organisms are pre-packaged and ready to fly.
Bacteria is amazingly hearty in space. Spores are formed when there is a reaction. They seal themselves up to protect themselves and allows bacteria to stay dormant for an amazing amount of time. We have seen them from 250-million years ago. While this is a great theory, it doesn’t actually answer how life began. Whether we arrived from space or arose from the earth itself, it had to face almost total oblivion before it could become you and me.
Today we have a dazzling array of life. Every living thing on earth can trace itself back to one cell. Although it can be hard to fathom, humans share 50% of our DNA with a Grapefruit. DNA is a huge amount of informational connections. DNA can change, and these mutations give us change. The ladder of DNA is the operating system of life and tells cells how to replicate.
Far beneath the oceans, single-celled organisms became multicellular. Mountains of living bacteria, called stromatolites, began to use the power of sunlight to turn the energy into glucose. Called photosynthesis, the stromatolites slowly fill the water with oxygen. This mix forms rust which falls to the ocean floor and becomes rich iron and iron ore. Transforming Carbon Dioxide and water would release a bi-product poisonous to the planet. Interestingly, we know it today as oxygen, and it makes up 21% of our current atmosphere.
Over the next two billion years, the newly formed water and the laws of physics began to slow down the earths rotation. Oxygen levels began to rise. The day was now sixteen hours long. 1.5 Billion years ago, there still was no complex life. The earth was broken into vast plates that push and pull the plates around he globe. The earth was slowly changing, a vast quiet in the middle of space.
Heat from the core of our earth rose through the mantle and disrupted the continents. Volcanoes erupted throughout the earth. The crust of the earth was ripping from its ocean floor. There was as many as three thousand volcanoes throughout the planet, all of them erupting at the same time. Spewing gasses and smoke throughout the earth's atmosphere, the skies soon became dark.
Carbon Dioxide and water mixed to form acid rain, which was deposited in the rocks of earth. The cooling of the earth only took two thousand ears, but it soon dropped to -50F. The water turned into walls of ice, spreading away from the poles but then to the equator. The more ice that was made, the greater the reflection of the sunlight back into space, and the colder the earth had become. It was a cyclical journey that was smothered with ice.
With billions of tons of carbon dioxide there was nothing to absorb the gas, so its excess was belched into the atmosphere. After fifteen-million years the ice began melt and released heat. Then a series of chemical reactions occurred, trapping the oxygen within the ice. This chemical would be known as hydrogen peroxide.
Oxygen removed methane from the atmosphere - but the result was a rapid cool-down of the earth. The cooling was so rapid that ice began to develop o the surface. It spread quickly and soon the planet was covered in a huge layer of ice and permafrost It eventually become a huge snowball that would last 200-Million years. Then, in our next step on the critical journey of life, volcanoes began to spew greenhouse gasses which slowly warmed the earth, melted the snowballs, and rapidly exploded life here on earth. We exist because we learned how to use oxygen and metabolize energy. Imagine the incredible odds that life faced in its early development.
There are three basic processes of our present day existence. The first one is the creation of life, the second is the rise of complex life, and the third is the rise of intelligent life. The stage for simple life is abundant throughout the universe. But beyond this, the recipe calls for an oxygen-rich world. Mars is known to have manganese oxides – a fundamental block for human life. When it reacts with oxygen, it develops a ‘’rock-varnish’’ or a coating on the surface of the rock. They exist all over the earth, and now it seems as if we have found the same rock on Mars.
Ultraviolet waves began to cook DNA with a force a thousand times stronger than it is today. This intense radiation would have destroyed life as it began to form. It seems as if the beginnings of life had to form in the shade. The cauldron of our early years as a planet would have prohibited the development of life as we would come to know it.
Our closest planet has a similar chemical composition to our earth. It was stand to reason that if two planets in the same solar system have the ‘’star-stuff’’ and the building blocks so predictably beautiful, then the odds that we are alone might not be so far off. But the idea that there is intelligent life is another matter altogether.
The earth, 450 million years ago, was an ocean paradise and a nursery for tens of thousands of strange living organisms. The planet was well on its way to becoming a full zoo of living animals. But throughout the earth's history, catastrophic events have challenged the life as we would come to know it. We are just beginning to understand what a vulnerable planet we have and how great the odds are against life on our earth is today. Mass extinctions are a part of our past and probably a part of our future. Who lives, and who dies, are all questions that demand answers.
Earth's First Extinction Event
A killer from space was headed to our earth. It would be our first mass extinction.
475 Million years ago, during the Ordovician Age, the earth looked very different than it does today. The surface of the planet was barren and devoid of any life whatsoever. There were few mountains yet, just a series of bleak rolling hills. The oxygen level was far beneath today’s levels. But under the water, it was a thriving, growing and dynamic world. Creatures of dramatic sizes and curious shapes were thriving in vast shallow oceans called Trans-Pantreatic Sea. The vast amount of trilobite fossils found throughout the earth would suggest that it was a world teeming with life to such a degree that the waters needed a mechanism with which to clean it.
The planet is made up of two very large land masses and is warm and wet, with sea levels higher than they are now. The oxygen level is very low during the Ordovician Age and almost all living things were under water. The surface world was desolate but under water, the teaming of life was a rich seascape.
The warm sunlit waters are home for readily evolving sunlight. Trilobites took care of animal waste and were related to a modern day ants.
Astraspis one of the very first fish to navigate the waters. This lowly creature was just six inches long and weren’t efficient as far as life goes. They were slow and cumbersome in the waters. But they had one unique adaptation that set them apart from everything else in the seas. It was the first animal with a spine that was protective of a central nervous system. Although it is difficult to fathom, all living vertebrates today owe their existence to this tiny fish that could have fit into the palm of your hand.
This creature endures cold water better than any other on the planet. Astrapsis also could adapt to the changes. Eventually, the first fish develop Jaws. This remarkable adaptation allowed them to take down prey, chew various types of food, and eventually allow hominids to speak.
On the other end of the spectrum was a Straight Nautiloid, the great white shark of its time. It was a voracious hunter that in a strange twist of genetic mutation, swam much better backwards. They routinely ate meat. It was an incredibly intimidating oceanic beast that was twenty feet long and remarkably swift in the water. But still, they were routinely challenged by Sea Scorpions (Eurypterid) who were extraordinary in their nastiness. The largest arthropod on the planet, they were six-to- seven feet long and covered with bristlecone claws.
You can imagine scorpions of the earth today and then see them as underwater creatures that weighed as much as 300 lbs. I somehow don't think a leisurely trip to the beach would be advisable. These scorpions were ruthless in their attacks on one another and as primary predators of the era, they loved the vast variety of food sources found at the bottom of the ocean. Eurypterids were fast and agile in the seas and they were certain to be at the top of the Ordovician Age.
It would have been a scary world for humans to inhabit. Most of these creatures were visually intimidating, so-much-so that even their fossils are scary. There was no grace or beauty in their hunting, as you might see in a lion or a cheetah hunting down its prey. There was nothing majestic like a falcon diving 200 miles-per-hour to snare a rodent in its talents.
There was no strategy like the killer whales use today when they separate their whale calve-counterparts from a protective pod. There was certainly not the long endurance hunt that you might witness by hyenas in the African Kalahari. These creatures of the Ordovician Age were voracious consumers, killers without a plan, and their only purpose was to kill, or be killed. This would have been a very hard thing for we humans to view without feeling a chill of fear and the apprehension of instant death that would befall these creatures.
The Sea-Scorpion also survived the changes. They took the place of the Straight Nautiloid. The ice eventually melted, causing another drastic change in development. Straight nautiloids make a surprising comeback but they are smaller and less aggressive than before. The Sea Scorpions begin to exhibit a strange behavior now. They are dragging their kill to the shore. Inside the sea-scorpions are a pair of lungs, which were developed due to the decline in water level. Other evolutionary traits begin to develop as well.
These two creatures were often in a life-or-death struggle for survival. In fact, in 2001, a fossil was found with a Nautili and a Eurypterid tangled in a life and death struggle, killed at exactly the same time, with each one devouring on another. The violence at their moment of death is indicative of the gruesome way of life that the earth experienced in its early days. The more we understand about these things, the greater our comprehension of how life got to where we today.
Coral Reefs began to die and as the weeks went by, the dead marine life began to cloud up the waters. A lack of food, rising death rates, and the lack of sunlight - and the whole food chain topples. The Ultraviolet radiation is most intense in the tropics. Within three months of the Gamma Ray has altered the planet into a morphology of death. Reproduction seems to have come to a halt, perhaps due to the changes in the way light was absorbed by the creatures.
Famine is inescapable. Every species is threatened with extinction. If these creatures do not survive, we would probably not be here today. It took less than eight months to shatter the molecules of our atmosphere into a witches brew of poisonous gasses. Nitrogen Dioxide, (smog) cause a plummeting of the earth's temperatures worldwide. For the coiled nautiloid, this spells trouble. Eggs aren't forming as they should and mortality is higher than their death rate. But because their shells are strong and spiraled, they go deeper into the water and thrive.
In Mexico, a once vibrant habitat became a dingy graveyard. The coral reefs grow in place and unlike the spiraled nautiloid these organisms couldn't relocate. The reefs died. Intense sunlight poured in, followed by a thick smog which caused a sudden drop in temperatures. Snow piles up in the poles creating a new ice age. Ocean water was sucked into the ice, causing a lower sea level, draining the pools of inland waters. Huge icebergs rolled over the dead coral reefs and the sea levels contributed to a forced migration of the animals that managed to survive.
Ten years after the ray hit the planet, violent weather caused a never-ending wave of category five hurricanes. Reef animals are smashed against the rocks, and those that had any strength left were to drive these animals deeper. The drive to safety causes the long nautiloid to crack under the pressure. Year around violent storms smack the earth. Today we find fossils of many of the Ordovician creatures far inland.
The Sea-Scorpion also survived the changes. They took the place of the Straight Nautiloid. The ice eventually melted, causing another drastic change in development. Straight nautiloids make a surprising comeback but they are smaller and less aggressive than before. The Sea Scorpions begin to exhibit a strange behavior now. They are dragging their kill to the shore. Inside the sea-scorpions are a pair of lungs, which were developed due to the decline in water level. An interesting thing occurred with the genetic improvement of vision. Sea Scorpions had very primitive eyes. Sea Scorpions had the capacity to make out shapes, seeing the difference between light and darkness. But the image was blurry. By taking their victims ashore, their vision gradually improved. And furthermore, more evolutionary traits begin to develop as well.
377 Million Years ago animals were thriving in this primeval world. Then another extinction event occurred. A relentless assault on the planet was developing inside the planet. Deep inside the earth, a super-plume of lava composed of two million square miles erupted. The planet is a warm wet world of islands in an endless ocean. Plants cover the land for the first time in history.
After this first extinction event, 700,000 species went extinct. (70%) It is within this small remnant that we evolved. Despite this, the diversity of those that survived gave way to every fish that ever swam in the sea. As Darwin noted, adaptation is the key to sustaining life.
My fascination with history goes beyond the written word. Everything, it seems, has a beginning. In almost every case, we have learned to identify a common origin. But in the history of our planet, there is much debate. How did we get here in the first place? What makes the earth so special, so unique, that it could be randomly selected for sophisticated life? We went through five-six extinction events that threatened our very existence.
The history of life on this planet have been outlined but there have been tantalizing gaps in it. Where did we become vertebrates?
Today, The fossil evidence is being uncovered in Yunan province in China. Many of these fossils were alive on this planet 500,000 years ago. The fossil beds in China reveal a sudden loss of life so great that there wasn't time for bacteria to devour the softer parts. The Cambrian explosion gave us tens of thousands of animals, all without a backbone.
But the first animals with nervous systems begin to show up at this time. The Myllokunmingia had a chord that would protect a primitive central nervous systems and it also provided mobility to escape predators. It was the mother of all vertebrates that ever lived on the planet. This astonishing journey to human kind has been one of biological brilliance.
Today, we have reminders of the Cambrian era, one of which is called a lamprey. It is so primitive that it has no mouth. They kind of have the attractive look of a fat water hose with a circular mouth full of teeth. The first vertebrates seemed to have the same kind of mouth. But over time they would change by developing more complex and efficient use of eating machinery.
Fish which have cartilage for backbones also had developed the jaw. It was great for eating food but it was still a matter of finding it. In addition, 410 Million years ago, the first fins have been developed. The pelvic fins helped to provide movement for their hunting ability. Every underwater environment today begins here.
The Amazing Uniqueness of Each Living Thing On Our Planet Is Stunning
400 Million Years ago one of the most astonishing moves in history occurred. Vertebrates made their way onto land. It seems unlikely, for to do so would require an adaptation. And, as we have seen, adaptations are the effect of another cause. What was that cause? The answer seems to be that additional food sources were becoming available to them in addition to new threats under the seas. The arrival of fauna growing in the shallows and swamps gave rise to new predators and this created new opportunities for the fish that lived here.
And then about 370 Million years ago a new species arrived, Dunkleosteus was a formidable hunter Eyes on the top of its head, fins that looked very much like limbs. A shoulder has developed along with an ulna and radius bone. The fin was still there, but it was adaptive enough to clumsily make its way. The use of fins was so laborious that it burned more calories than it could initially find. But that wasn't the case for long. This creature paved the trail for the first vertebrates to conquer land.
The arrival of the first vertebrate animals could not have happened if it weren't for oxygen. The first group was amphibians. These creatures have ADAPTIVE traits, being able to extract oxygen from both water and air. When out of the water for any length of time, the gills dry up and are rendered useless. But, over time, the gills of the amphibians would would become enclosed, inside the body, and we know these today as lungs.
And – of the MILLIONS of events that threatened life and begat life, had just ONE thing been any different, we would not be here to tell our own story. The odds against us were very great, and it is fascinating to unlock the mysteries, one at a time, that tell our story.
Our ocean and our air, the two most essential elements on which all life depended upon, had become a delicate balance of oxygen and nitrogen that were all too virgin to absorb a violent change. As it has been said by Jacques Cousteau, ‘’The sea, once it has cast its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. ‘’
About every 90-seconds, a mysterious thing happens. The sky is lit up by a brilliant flash of energy. The sparkles of light come from every direction and with random occurrence. Because these appear in the form of Gamma Rays they don’t appear visible to our human eyes. But according to a study conducted by California-State University at Berkley, Gamma Ray Bursts are the most powerful thing in the sky aside from the Big Bang itself.
It is what happens when a star explodes. Stars are heated by the photons of light escaping. A gamma-ray burst is the brightest thing in our universe. When a star implodes, all of its matter is squeezed into the core via gravity. During a normal Super-Nova, gravity becomes very strong and thus the core becomes very dense. The result is a 'White-Dwarf' or Neutron Star. An exploding Hyper-Nova is different. All of the suns matter is forced into its center at about a billion earth masses a second. Gravity is so strong, light cannot get out. Since all of its matter cannot fit inside, excess light shoots out of the magnetic poles of the star. It spits out at nearly the speed of light and creates super beams of energy.
When there is no more hydrogen photons to escape, the star begins to produce iron, which as we have already seen, is the death penalty for the star.
Imagine yourself walking on the beach nearly 450-million years ago. The heavens look very different but the warm breeze and quiet stillness on the beach.
On this ordinary day 450-Million years ago, the most dramatic moment to ever happen on the earth would occur. There was a flash in the sky, then quiet. Very gradually, the sky would brighten to five times its level on a clear day and the remnant of what looks like a second sun would appear in the sky. In actuality it is simply the reflection of the sun in the newly forming clouds of Nitrogen Dioxide.
A brownish haze would develop over the following week cooling the earth. As nightfall arrived, the brown haze would hold electrical charges as atoms continued to split apart and reform atoms into new elements.
Ultra-Violet radiation peeled away the atmosphere’s Ozone layer and marine life that lived too close to the surface were fried before they could even reproduce once. Consider how fast this gamma ray burst killed off life! Within weeks, the temperature of he earth had cooled, 10-20% of the sun’s light was now blocked from hitting the earth starting a gradual cooling.
Dead marine life began to foul the surface of the planet and snow began to fall. As temperatures plunged the snow did not melt over that first winter. Within a few short years, earth became little more than a huge and lifeless snow-ball. So, what happened?
As we have seen, new ideas are often the slowest to adopt. It was a controversial theory that Gamma-Ray burst hit the earth. Initially it is believed that a star in the center of the Milky Way exploded and sent an intense amount of energy out of its poles. The intensity of the light was so great that the power was able penetrate everything in its path.
The O-zone was so depleted the skies lit up brighter than any day on earth had ever experienced. A National Geographic Study in 2005 revealed that there was a huge spike in radiation that occurred in the Ordovician period gives credence to the notion that something of major significance occurred with regards to a Gamma Ray Burst.
The Space Shuttle Atlantis sent up a satellite to look for Gamma Ray Bursts. The perplexing mystery would be solved with the ‘Compton-Observatory.’ Initially it was thought that due to the strength of the Gamma-Ray Burst that hit the earth that these bursts were within the Milky Way. They were wrong.
They were evenly distributed far and wide and they could come from anywhere in the universe. And when you consider the strength of the one that hit the earth, the implications are that these are hugely enormous explosions. In fact, Gamma Ray Bursts are so powerful that they explode with the energy of all the other stars in the universe---combined.
Using an interstellar GPS of sorts, the Dutch-Italian satellite in 1997, Beppo-Sax, became the first to measure where the Gamma Ray Bursts were originating. Using a red-shift measuring stick, we can now measure not just distance, but time. There were several that came from an older elliptical galaxy, where very few newer stars reside.
The Gamma-Ray burst hits the upper reaches of the atmosphere with astronomical force, leaving behind a visual that is both stunning and beautiful. The burst was more powerful than all the nuclear arsenals in the world combined. Air molecules were split and as much as 30-40% of the upper atmosphere of the earth was destroyed.
The microbes at the surface of the ocean were wiped out due to the ultra-violet light of the sun. The most destructive force in the universe would have eviscerated the planet had we been hit directly. More than likely, we were grazed by it. The smallest of the food chain was quickly wiped out. While the surface was a nursery for many of the larvae, after the burst it has become too hot to make for survival. The normally hearty trilobites began to die off very rapidly. Coral Reefs began to starve to death and ripple up the food chain. Within weeks, the tiny plants on the coral detach themselves and go looking for food.
The surge of ultraviolet light helped to deplete the Ozone and was lethal to plankton. Anything near the surface was wiped out within 90-120 days. The atmosphere suffered intense damage in just 90-minutes. It is a startling reminder of how fragile the ecosystems of this planet can be!
The beam blasted apart the two principle gasses. In this chemical chaos, the Nitrogen is free to re-form with Oxygen It only takes a single molecule of Nitrous-Oxide can wipe out one thousand molecules of Ozone. As a result, 40% of our Ozone was destroyed at once. Another atom that is formed during a Gamma-Ray burst is Nitrogen-Dioxide, an acidic smelling brown gas would cover the planet. Its ominous haze would block out sunlight and initiate global cooling, changing climate and climate patterns.
The sudden drop of temperature provided a one-two punch as to how the Ordovician ended. The harsh ultra-violet killed off new embryos and 75% of all life in just one generation.
These bursts were coming out in beams or jets rather than a 360-degree radius. Because these shoot off in jets, we only see those that are pointed at us. But what causes these explosions? Scientists remain unsure but there is a belief that they are closely related to Black Holes. In 1993, a Super-Nova happened relatively close to earth. All of the nuclear fuel in the star was spent and there was nothing to hold the star together. The explosion was dramatic and beautiful to astronomers here on earth.
In a Super-Nova, the star begins to expand when the nuclear fuel begins to run out. The star is spinning at incredible speeds and gravity begins to pull everything together with great G-Forces. The energy of this star is thrust out in jets on either pole while it is spinning, exiting at the path of least resistance.
‘’…Sexual Selection, by always allowing the victor to breed might surely give indomitable courage, strength, and the will to survive so that the weaker are parsed and the progeny of the winners allowed to proceed.’’
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1854
One of the odd side-effects was the loss of color in the animal world. The Coiled Nautili female will look for the most colorful shell of the males with which to mate with. As they dip to deeper parts of the sea they begin to lose their color. Yet, this has been a way to ensure the survival of the fittest. This is natural selection at it’s very best. The deeper seas allow for less light, reducing the color that the animal needs to have to survive predators. But it does nothing in the grand design of procreation. Instead, it ensures their demise. This loss of color now means that the females are mating with males that are not at their healthiest, dropping the life-expectancy and weakening the species.
It is such a small thing given the odds, but it simply details how very deep the odds were that anything-let alone anyone, would survive these catastrophic events. And in this particular case, the nautili is not unlike most marine animals in this respect and the deeper they go, the fewer and fewer survive.
The once vibrant habitat of the reefs soon became a dingy and morose graveyard. The change in climate caused more and more destructive hurricanes and the weakened animals are smashed onto the shallow surfaces.
Big temperature swings created strong ocean currents in the same way that an El Nino does today. Wave after wave of large storms drive the animals deeper and deeper into the sea. The initial escape mechanisms rushing to deeper water causes the shells of the straight nautili’s to burst from the inside. The curved nautili’s are stronger, but as we see already, their line is being weakened by the lack of sunlight. Everywhere, the life on this planet was in its gravest peril.
What an immense catastrophe in time the earth was experiencing! And yet when we travel to near worlds like Mars, we cannot help but wonder if we are catching a glimpse into their own mass extinctions. The ultimate irony is not that we suffered through these extinctions, but that we ever came back at all to have the lives we lead now. If even ONE thing had gone differently, we would not be here today.
Below: Samples of the Amazing Diversity In Just One Life-Family Tree