Earth Timeline as if it is One Year Long

What if the Earth was only one year old?

When developing the timeline of the Earth, it occurred to me that it is really hard to understand big numbers like billion.

In fact, even millions of years was too much to understand.

This is why I thought it would be better to use days as the markers of time.

The timeline of the Earth is done as if the planet was only one year in age, rather than the 4.54 Billion years it actually is.

It helped me grasp the enormity of time involved when compared to how long humans have been around, and even more so when my own life is a mere 0.3 seconds long. A blink of the eye.

1st January

This is Earth in the beginning.

A big molten ball of hot rock.

The Earth was new, fast growing and had a bad temper.

There was no fire, no life, no moon, no air, no water.

3rd January

A Mars sized planet called Theia had a glancing strike on Earth, smashing it into pieces during the strike.

The pieces that came off first formed a ring and from there the moon pulled itself together.

1st February

The planet has cooled down, but is still hostile for life.

The Earth is spinning fast and the crust has cracks all over it. The beginnings of plate tectonics.

10th February

The Earth was being bombarded throughout February.

This was a stage where the solar system was mopping up the stray bits and pieces and turning them into slightly bigger planets.

Some of the impacts would have been truly huge.

25th February

Against the odds, the first single cell organisms appear.

While we still do not know how and where they came from, we can still say they were some very tough lifeforms to have survived and thrive.

10th March

The oldest fossil is of a stromatolite (Think bacteria, algae and mold).

It is fitting that not only are they the first life forms, but that prokaryotic (Bacteria and Archaea) is still around today.

Also, they are part of the reason for all life existing. Without these, there is no life because they maintain and recycle the proteins need, oxygen we breath, nitrogen and carbon.

25th March

Photosynthetic bacteria appear. The process they use is a basic form of photosynthesis in that it only used infra-red light and produced sulfur or sulfur compounds rather than oxygen.

While not overly helpful for us, it is the first step.

Go you good bacteria, do your thing.

4th May

The landscape of the time was still hostile for life.

But would make for a good day trip with the right breathing apparatus and clothing.

The Earth’s crust is cooling down and this is the time when plate tectonics truly begins and continues to this day.

6th May

Ur: The first super continent.

I wasn’t going to put in super continents, but when I accidentally saw the name of the first one, I couldn’t resist.

As super continents go, it is small. Smaller than Australia. But it was the only one.

21st May

Ur breaks apart.

24th May

Cyanobacteria started the photosynthesis that we know and love today.

In fact, the cyanbacteria is how plants still do their photosynthesis. That means plants do not do it, the bacteria within the leaves do it for them. This is a symbiotic relationship that comes into play later on. At this point in time, the Cyanobacteria are doing it for themselves

Have you given thanks to bacteria yet?

28th May

Kenorland is a collection of smaller continents that crashed together.

It had a lot of volcanic activities and mountain ranges, as one might guess when things smash together (think about the Himalaya Ranges) and slide along each other (that is like Californian fault line).

27th June

The Great Oxygenation Event.

Remember those Cyanobacteria doing their photosynthesis thing? They changed the mix of gases in the atmosphere by reducing the CO2 levels and increasing the O2 levels.

This did two things.

Since Oxygen was toxic to the lifeforms at the time, there was a massive die off.

And with increased amounts of Oxygen, chemical reactions began to happen with iron, namely, the iron began to rust. Rust is red.

So for a short period of time the Earth was red.

The cyanobacteria were not finished messing with the colour of the Earth yet.

29th June

The Huronian Glaciation event is really awesome. It is basically the entire planet turned into a snowball.

How did it happen?

With the increased Oxygen levels and decreased CO2 levels from photosynthesis, the planet began to cool down as the CO2 levels dropped. CO2 keeps the heat on the planet, so less CO2 means more heat escapes.  

The decreased CO2 and increased O2 levels dropped the temperature so much that Earth basically froze over.

This is extreme natural climate change caused by microscopic bacteria.

16th July

Kenorland breaks apart.

This caused a lot of volcanic activity. This increased the CO2 levels, warming the Earth up again as the volcanoes broke through the ice.

17th July

As the volcanic activity ramps up so do the CO2 levels.

With more CO2, more heat is trapped, the planet warms up and the snowball Earth, which lasted about 200 million years, came to an end.

Underneath the ice, life survived.

18th July

It is difficult to determine a day for the first cell with a nuclei. Even the ranges of it happening are large.

So this is somewhat of a guess.

Why pick this date then?

The Earth was full of bacteria and other single cell life forms. Life was decimated bring the Oxygenation Event then covered in ice for 200 millions of years. To my simple thinking, complexity is unlikely to work well.

After the Earth warms up, the planet is warmer and different to previous times. This is a good place for something new to pop up and do well compared to other organisms.

I am probably wrong. But when the range is 1 billion years wide, I just took a best guess. This is right, give or take 40 days.

Regardless of the timing, this event lead to all complex lifeforms since. Including us.

10th August

Columbia Supercontinent (also known as Nuna) was anchored by the regions Laurentia and Baltica. The rest of the continent simply crashed into these solid regions and stayed together for a while.

15th September

Columbia Supercontinent breaks apart.

Laurentia and Baltica basically stay still. Every other continent will crash back into it again relatively soon.

17th Semptember

Sexual reproduction first occurs.

It isn’t all that exciting barring the massive benefits it garners and being another significant branching off that to leads us existing.

What started to happen is that an organism found a way to stop replicating itself via cloning, and started combining genetic material with a similar organism to form a different organism. At this stage it was an external process only, similar to how fish release eggs and sperm into the water and let the large numbers do the work (but not fish, they still didn’t exist)

This step allows for adaption to occur far quicker and creates more diversity.

It is a significant step for that reason alone.

8th October

Rodinia is the second largest of the supercontinents.

Not a lot is known about it other than when it formed and broke apart and its basic location.

What is more interesting is what happened during its break up.

28th October

Rodinia was large and sandy.

This created a lighter than ocean effect that reflected more light and heat back into space.

Over a period of tens of millions of years, glaciers appeared, that increased the reflection of heat and light, that cooled the planet down even more until we were back into another snowball Earth.

3rd November

Rodinia finally splits apart beneath the ice.

12th November

As Rodinia splits apart the ice remain persistent until the next super continent started to form.

As Pannotia began to form and crash together, the usual mountainous regions rose from below, volcanic activity increased that melted the ice, threw out greenhouse gases and warmed the planet up.

The ice melted.

13th November

The Pannotia Supercontinent is still up for debate mostly because it was so short lived. It appears the continents did crash together but never really “stick”. More like a bounce.

Either way, it was there for a while, we can let the experts figure out the details of what to call it. (It reminds me of whether to call Pluto a planet or not).

15th November

The first evidence of fungi puts them in this period of time. BUT, there is a growing body of evidence appearing that shows them being around for about 1 billion years earlier.

The problem is fungi do not fossilize well, so there are very few of them.

The first fungi probably started in the oceans but quickly migrated to the land. I am sure the huge bounty of dead bacterial matter appealed to them a lot.

19th November

The Pannotia Supercontinent quickly bounces apart just to make a nuisance of itself for a few dedicated future humans.

20th November

The first fish turns up.

This is super exciting because fish are the first vertebrates (they have a back bone).

Fish provided the basic template for all vertebrates moving forward, including us. This means that if you go back into your ancestry you will find this fish.

21st November

Vegetation makes it the land for the first time.

There is plenty of land. The planet is nice and warm. CO2 levels are high. And fungi have done the ground work of basic soil creation from eating the dead bacteria.

Plants make it out of the oceans and begin the job of occupying a habitat devoid of predators.

It goes without saying that this was a good time to be a plant.

If you have been watching closely, maybe you will be able to predict what happens when the plants keep breathing out Oxygen.

22nd November

Fire burns for the first time on Earth.

Most people think fire has always been around. It is so normal that we just assume it has always been here.

So why did fire take so long to appear?

Fire needs three things.

1: Ignition. This has always been around through lightning, volcanoes and other sources.

2: Oxygen. Oxygen levels have fluctuated throughout time, so this is here sometimes, not so much at others.

3: Fuel. This had been the missing piece. No fuel. When plants made the shift to land, fire finally had everything it needed to appear.

The fire cycle started.

Plants grow, remove CO2, add O2, the fires burned to remove the O2 and replace CO2.

Fire became a stabilizing factor for the climate.

23rd November

The first animals to crawl onto land were arthropods.

The reasons they came up to the land is a toss up between escaping those nasty water predators with the millions of years of honed in abilities and sitting on the dry ground with no predators and an abundance of plants not being eaten.

Any animal venturing onto land needed to be tough, and arthropods are tough. Exoskeleton, decent movement abilities and, eventually, lungs to deal with air rather than water.

Scorpions also turned up, they dealt with the high radiation levels by moving around at night.

These first animals are so interesting, I will stop myself here to avoid writing a book about them.

24th November

The first act of sex happened.

Thats right, Earth lost it’s virginity.

The honors go to fish again. Which is disappointing because it would make more sense if it could happen in front of a warm fire.

27th November

The Ordovician-Silurian Extinction Event.

The dubious honor of being the first mass extinction. 85% of all species disappeared, most of them water based species although most species were water bound anyway.

This extinction was climate change related.

The first wave occurred when the temperatures plummeted, freezing water and land based species.

The second wave was due to a drop in ocean levels, which trapped water species in shallow oceans that disappeared as water turned to ice.

What is interesting about this event is the Earth did not become a snow ball again. The reasoning is that CO2 levels were kept higher because of fires on the land.

30th November

Insects arrive.

Insects have not changed a lot since they first arrived. They found a successful formula for survival and stuck with it. While size and color may have altered over time, we could go back and still find a dragon fly, cricket or beetle and know what they are.

To add to the insects impressive record, add in being the first creatures to fly.

1st December

Amphibians begin their creation.

There a various reasons for animals leaving the water, for amphibians it was a mix of escaping predation, chasing their prey out of the water and a drop in the levels of oxygen in the water they were living in but still needing it to breed.

2nd December

The Late Devonian Extinction removed 75% of all species.

The reasons for it happening vary, although it seems likely that a series of events combined together, on of which was the levels of Oxygen in the shallow seas and oceans dropping too much. It means amphibians dodged a bullet.

Part of the reason for the O2 drop was organic material washing into the oceans from plants etc that cause algae blooms on a massive scale.

Another part is a drop in temperature when CO2 levels dropped a little before returning to the levels best suited for land life forms.

Many of the reasons for this extinction stem from the growing numbers of life forms moving to the land from the water.

6th December

Reptiles made it into existence.

Beginning with lizard like creatures that fed off insects and arthropods.

Also of special note, reptiles are the first vertebrate (Animals with a spine) to make a full conversion to being land dwelling.

7th December

Pangea, the most famous of Super continents, is formed.

This formation is the last time the continents we form into one and one that sets the stage for many more species to appear.

12th December

End Permian Extinction. 96% of all species disappear.

What causes such a massive amount of devastation?

Like the other extinction events, it is climate related. Although this time the cause of the climate change is not life.

The initiation was a long running series of volcanic activity in the Siberian Traps.

The eruptions created an increase in greenhouse gases that increased the global temperatures by 6 C over 100,000 years.

This killed the plant life.

Fewer plants means fewer animals. The only species to spike up is fungi because it suddenly had a lot of rotting wood to eat.

With increased atmospheric temperatures, the oceans warmed up to between 30 C and 32 C. Oxygen levels decreased, acidity increased, then 96% of water based life forms died in the water.

There are also signs of a large asteroid impact the temporarily shifted the climate down then back up again, while covering the planet in darkness for while.

There is also evidence that Pangea slowed the currents that mix the water up and Oxygenate it.

Basically, Earth conspired against life with series of events that, turned a series of extinctions into a single massive die off.

13th December

With a planet emptied of many species, those that remained had a fairly good time of it.

Reptiles diversified into dinosaurs, which was the beginning of a very long and successful run for them.

15th December

Not long after dinosaurs made themselves known, came along a small species of mammal.

This one species is responsible for all mammals alive today.

Basically, this is your ancient ancestor.

16th December

End Triassic Extinction. 80% of life disappeared.

Volcanoes erupt. This is seen to be the first signs that Pangea is breaking apart.

CO2 levels increase.

Temperatures increase “only” 3 or 4 C.

Almost everything dies.

17th December

End Triassic Extinction. 80% of life disappeared.

Volcanoes erupt. This is seen to be the first signs that Pangea is breaking apart.

CO2 levels increase.

Temperatures increase “only” 3 or 4 C.

Almost everything dies.

18th December

Pangea breaks apart.

19th December

To celebrate the breaking up of Pangea, flowers were created.

Okay, maybe not.

This adaption created an advantage over non-flowering plants, and a new niche for birds and insects to exploit.

27th December

End Cretaceous Extinction Event. 75% of species disappear.

And finally and extinction that is not climate change related, mostly.

The asteroid that hit was big. 10km wide (6 miles).

This impact was truly huge yet it still was not, in itself, able to finish off dinosaurs. What did finish them off was the darkening of the planet, the drop in temperatures and the subsequent dying off of plants.

What is still being determined is why the dinosaurs were extinguished so completely when other types of animals, like mammals and reptiles, survived. The most likely answer is when the planet was covered in the debris of the asteroid, the sun was blocked out and the plants died. For the most part, plants were eaten by dinosaurs, and many dinosaurs ate specific types of plants.

When those plants died down, plant eating dinosaurs suddenly had nothing to eat. Then the meat eating dinosaurs that ate the plant eating dinosaurs had nothing to eat. And they all died out together.

This left other types of animals, smaller dinosaurs, less fussy dinosaurs, and dinosaurs that ate non-dinosaurs, left to an empty planet.

28th December

While it is fun to know when horses first appeared, this is could only come about because grasslands became widespread after the last extinction event.

Grasslands expanded, horses, deer, rabbits, pigs and other mammals expanded in species numbers rapidly.

From this point on, mammals became the newest big player on the planet. (One needs to ignore the fantastic ongoing success of arthropods, insects and bacteria though)

31st December

Now there is a decent scale of the timeline of Earth and it’s various events, today marks the time where humans appear.

2.00 pm: Humans ancestors split from the apes.

8.15 pm: Homo Erectus appears.

11.31 pm: Homo Sapiens appear. This is the point where, if you were to uproot one of these people and bring them to our time, they would fit in without issue.

11.47.45 pm: First cave paintings.

11.59.10 pm: Agriculture begins.

11.59.58: Industrial Revolution. I am born (1968).

The Wrap Up

One of the things I have personally taken away from doing this post is this……. massive impacts, volcanoes and devastating events normally do not do the damage.

The real damage is done when the climate is altered from the stable patterns, normally it is done by the dominant life form on the planet, or the after effects of volcanoes or an impact.

What is most interesting is the climate changes that did the two worst extinction events were “only” 4 to 6 C.

When I see estimates of climate change in the order of 3 C to 6 C this century, it actually means extremely bad news. Even 2 C is going to be a significant challenge to our existence in the coming centuries.

Another thing I saw was how determined life is to survive. It simply does not give up, ever.

Lastly, our life span is a blink of the eye. Given how short it is, we really need to treat our time with the respect it deserves.


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