Our old planet, the Earth is 4.54 billion years old. In fact, the human mind can no longer make any sense of large numbers like that. Numbers like 1, 2, 14, 20, 50 are all quantities that we encounter quite frequently in our daily lives. And our brain evolved to conceptualize numbers like that: our ancestors saw two lions; they hunted five deer in one hunting party, the population of their tribe was 20, etc…

But when the numbers are getting big, i.e. 1,000; 10,000… the problem begins: these numbers become increasingly difficult to conceptualize. Now, what happens when we try to conceptualize quantities like billions, like the Earth’s age? We can’t actually rationalize the immensity of such a big number. Because we haven’t a model of 4.54 billion that’s been compressed into something recognizable to the human mind.

To put this number into a perspective, Alex Kuzoian of Business insider prepared a beautiful video: you can watch Earth’s lifespan as the distance from Los Angeles to New York City. Along the trip, we see the formation of our Moon, the beginning of life, the evolution of the multi-cellular organisms, and the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. Probably the most interesting part is that modern humans only evolved 175 meters (570 feet) from the finishing line of this journey. And the big jump to the first multi-cellular organisms.

Putting the history of Earth into perspective: what if Earth’s lifetime was the distance from LA to New York City?
  • 4.54 billion years ago (2449 miles) – the Earth is formed.
  • 4.50 billion years ago (2428 miles) – the Moon forms after Earth is hit by a planet-sized body.
Earth's lifetime - How the moon was formed? Giant impact hypothesis
How the Moon was formed? “The giant impact hypothesis” is the prevailing theory supported by the scientific community. Like the other planets, the Earth formed from the leftover cloud of dust and gas orbiting the young sun. The early solar system was a violent place, and a number of bodies were created that never made it to full planetary status. According to the giant impact hypothesis, one of these crashed into Earth not long after the young planet was created. This artist’s concept shows a celestial body about the size of our moon slamming at great speed into a body the size of Mercury. Image: NASA
  • 3.95 billion years ago (2132 miles) – the World’s oldest rock forms. 3.80 billion years ago (2050 miles) – the beginning of life: first evidence of replicating molecules. 3.40 billion years ago (1835 miles) – the first photosynthetic organisms convert near-infrared light to sulfur or sulfate.
  • 2.70 billion years ago (1457 miles) – oxygen-producing cyanobacteria emerge. 2.50 billion years ago (1295 miles) – a significant amount of oxygen begin to build up in Earth’s atmosphere. 600 million years ago (324 miles) – multi-cellular organisms evolve. 465 million years ago (250 miles) – plants colonize the land.
First plants on Earth (Devonian period)
The Devonian marks the beginning of extensive land colonization by plants, which – through their effects on erosion and sedimentation – brought about significant climatic change. A 1956 painting by Zdeněk Burian (1905-1981), the Czech painter, book illustrator, and paleoartist whose work played a central role in the development of palaeontological reconstruction.
  • 370 million years ago (200 miles) – amphibians emerge from the water.
  • 250 million years ago (135 miles) – the Permian-Triassic extinction causes 99% of life on Earth to perish. It is the Earth’s most severe known extinction event. It was so big that it is the only known mass extinction of insects.
  • 230 million years ago (130 miles) – the age of dinosaurs begins.
  • 200 million years ago (108 miles) – Pangea breaks apart and eventually forms 7 continents.
  • 67 million years ago (36 miles) – Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops evolve.
Tyrannosaurus model
Tyrannosaurus rex was one of the largest land carnivores of all time; the largest complete specimen, located at the Field Museum of Natural History under the name FMNH PR2081 and nicknamed Sue, measured 12.3 meters (40 ft) long and was 4 meters (13 ft) tall at the hips. Mass estimates have varied widely over the years, from more than 7.2 metric tons (7.9 short tons) to less than 4.5 metric tons (5.0 short tons), with most modern estimates ranging between 5.4 metric tons (6.0 short tons) and 6.8 metric tons (7.5 short tons). One study in 2011 found that the maximum weight of Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus, was between 9.5 and 18.5 metric tons (9.3–18.2 long tons; 10.5–20.4 short tons), though the authors stated that their upper and lower estimates were based on models with wide error bars and that they “consider [them] to be too skinny, too fat, or too disproportionate”.
Packard et al. (2009) tested dinosaur mass estimation procedures on elephants and concluded that those of dinosaurs are flawed and produce over-estimations; thus, the weight of Tyrannosaurus could have been much less than previously thought. Other estimations have concluded that the largest known Tyrannosaurus specimens had masses approaching or exceeding 9 tonnes. This image is a full-size model in Poland, depicting Tyrannosaurus with both feathers and scales. Photo: Wikipedia
  • 66 million years ago (35 miles) – K-PG mass extinction wipes out the dinosaurs and two-thirds of all species.
Chicxulub impact
Artist’s rendering of a bolide impact. The Cretaceous-Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event, also known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K–T) extinction, was a mass extinction of some three-quarters of plant and animal species on Earth, including all non-avian dinosaurs, that occurred over a geologically short period of time, 66 million years ago. It marked the end of the Cretaceous period and with it, the entire Mesozoic Era, opening the Cenozoic Era that continues today. Image credit: Joe Tucciarone/Science Photo Library
  • 60 million years ago (32 miles) – with dinosaurs gone, mammals flourish.
  • 6 million years ago (3 miles) – hominins diverge from chimpanzees.
  • 1.8 million years ago (1 mile) – early humans craft cutting tools from stone.
  • 200,000 years ago (570 feet) – modern humans evolve.
  • 10,000 years ago (28.5 feet) – the agricultural revolution begins.
  • 5,500 years ago (15.7 feet) – the beginning of the recorded human history (writing).
  • 2,000 years ago (5.6 feet) – Jesus is crucified.
  • 523 years ago (1.5 feet) – Columbus sails to North America.
  • 239 years ago (8.2 inches) – The United States declares independence.
  • 75 years ago (2.6 inches) – World War II.
  • 25 years ago (0.8 inches) – The start of the information age.


M. Özgür Nevres

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