So far we’ve been taking a look at recent geological history with the Cenozoic Era and the earlier Mesozoic. Even just these time windows cover hundreds of millions of years, and that’s a lot for the human brain to really take in. But somehow, despite that enormity, it’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If you really want to blow your mind, check out this visualization from the US Geological Survey!
Phew. How are we supposed to interpret this? One way you can understand geological “deep time” is by framing it as an actual 24-hour day, with the following approximate milestones:
12:00 AM (midnight): The formation of our planet!
Just after 1:00 AM: Oldest dating of any mineral on Earth.
3:00 AM: Oldest dating of any rock on Earth. (Remember, rocks are agglomerated minerals!)
Somewhere around 4:00 AM: Single-celled life forms probably appear. The Earth also stops getting hit by a ton of asteroids in the Late Heavy Bombardment.
5:30 AM: While plants as we think of them don’t exist yet, photosynthesis arises.
6:20 AM: Oldest known fossil.
8:00 AM: Plate tectonics start to get underway.
Just after 12:00 PM (noon): Oxygen is now actually available in the atmosphere, courtesy of oxygen-producing bacteria. This removes most methane from the atmosphere and makes the Earth get very cold and icy for a while, a.k.a. “Snowball Earth.”
1:00 PM: Welcome eukaryotes! These are life forms whose cells have membrane-enclosed nuclei. This will eventually include fungi, plants, and animals. However, all life is still single-celled.
5:30 PM: At long last… multicellular organisms!
8:00 PM: Snowball Earth: The Sequel.
9:10 PM: The Paleozoic Era is underway with the “Cambrian Explosion.” This isn’t an extinction event! Quite the opposite. Our contemporary fossil records simply explode with evidence of proliferating organisms at this time, forming the basis for the phyla we know today.
9:41 PM: Life finally moves to land. We have land-based plants!
10:00 PM: Formation of the supercontinent Pangaea.
10:07 PM: Animals move to land as well. This includes early insects and amphibians.
10:26 PM: The rise of reptile life.
11:14 PM: Extinction of the dinosaurs, end of the Mesozoic Era.
11:49 PM: The planet’s tectonic plates achieve the continental layout we know today.
11:52 PM: First hominids (our primate ancestors).
11:58:43 PM: Behold homo sapiens. Here we are, folks! On this clock, all of human history is compressed into just over 1 second of time.
While you try to wrap your head around this, we’re going to have a Deep Time Marathon on Eyewire. Starting at 8:00 AM EST on 2/26, you will have 24 hours to complete one or more cells! Bonus & cell renaming information can be found in your in-game notifications.
Swag (generously sponsored by @susi): The top player (defined by number of points earned during the marathon time period) will win 1 tote bag! Also, among the top 25% of players, 2 players will each be raffled notebooks, and 3 more players will be raffled the choice of sticker or magnet.
Artwork by Daniela Gamba