History of Earth

History of Earth

Discussion
Ask a question about 'History of Earth'
Start a new discussion about 'History of Earth'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The history of the Earth describes the most important events and fundamental stages in the development of the planet
Planet
A planet is a celestial body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, science,...

 Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 from its formation 4.578 billion years ago
Age of the Earth
The age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years This age is based on evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples...

 to the present day. Nearly all branches of natural science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

 have contributed to the understanding of the main events of the Earth's past. The age of Earth is approximately one-third of the age of the universe
Age of the universe
The age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang posited by the most widely accepted scientific model of cosmology. The best current estimate of the age of the universe is 13.75 ± 0.13 billion years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model...

. An immense amount of geological
Geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 and biological
Biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

 change has occurred in that time span.

Earth formed around 4.578 billion years ago by accretion
Accretion (astrophysics)
In astrophysics, the term accretion is used for at least two distinct processes.The first and most common is the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter, typically gaseous matter in an accretion disc. Accretion discs are common around smaller stars or stellar remnants...

 from the solar nebula
Solar nebula
In cosmogony, the nebular hypothesis is the most widely accepted model explaining the formation and evolution of the Solar System. There is evidence that it was first proposed in 1734 by Emanuel Swedenborg. Originally applied only to our own Solar System, this method of planetary system formation...

. Volcanic outgassing
Outgassing
Outgassing is the release of a gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in some material. As an example, research has shown how the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has sometimes been linked to ocean outgassing...

 likely created the primordial atmosphere, but it contained almost no oxygen and would have been toxic to humans and most modern life. Much of the Earth was molten because of extreme volcanism and frequent collisions with other bodies. One very large collision
Giant impact hypothesis
The giant impact hypothesis states that the Moon was created out of the debris left over from a collision between the young Earth and a Mars-sized body. The colliding body is sometimes called Theia for the mythical Greek Titan who was the mother of Selene, the goddess of the moon.The giant impact...

 is thought to have been responsible for tilting the Earth at an angle and forming the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

. Over time, such cosmic bombardments ceased, allowing our planet to cool and form a solid crust
Crust (geology)
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet or natural satellite, which is chemically distinct from the underlying mantle...

. Water that was brought here by comet
Comet
A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

s and asteroid
Asteroid
Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

s condensed into clouds and the oceans took shape. Earth was finally hospitable to life, and the earliest forms that arose enriched the atmosphere with oxygen. Life on Earth remained small and microscopic for at least a billion years. Then, during the Cambrian period of the Phanerozoic eon, it experienced a rapid diversification
Cambrian explosion
The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was the relatively rapid appearance, around , of most major phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record, accompanied by major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes...

 into many of its modern forms.

Biological and geological change has been constantly occurring on our planet since the time of its formation. Organisms continuously evolve, taking on new forms or going extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 in response to an ever-changing planet. The process of plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 has played a major role in the shaping of Earth's oceans and continents, as well as the life they harbor. The biosphere
Biosphere
The biosphere is the global sum of all ecosystems. It can also be called the zone of life on Earth, a closed and self-regulating system...

, in turn, has had a significant effect on the atmosphere and other abiotic conditions on the planet, such as the formation of the ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

, the proliferation of oxygen, and the creation of soil
Soil
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics...

. Though humans are unable to perceive it due to their relatively brief life spans, this change is ongoing and will continue for the next few billion years.

4.6 Ga: Solar System




The Solar System
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

 (including the Earth) formed from a large, rotating cloud of interstellar dust
Dust
Dust consists of particles in the atmosphere that arise from various sources such as soil dust lifted up by wind , volcanic eruptions, and pollution...

 and gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

 called the solar nebula
Solar nebula
In cosmogony, the nebular hypothesis is the most widely accepted model explaining the formation and evolution of the Solar System. There is evidence that it was first proposed in 1734 by Emanuel Swedenborg. Originally applied only to our own Solar System, this method of planetary system formation...

, orbiting the Milky Way
Milky Way
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Solar System. This name derives from its appearance as a dim un-resolved "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky...

's galactic center
Galactic Center
The Galactic Center is the rotational center of the Milky Way galaxy. It is located at a distance of 8.33±0.35 kpc from the Earth in the direction of the constellations Sagittarius, Ophiuchus, and Scorpius where the Milky Way appears brightest...

. It was composed of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 created shortly after
Recombination (cosmology)
In cosmology, recombination refers to the epoch at which charged electrons and protons first became bound to form electrically neutral hydrogen atoms.Note that the term recombination is a misnomer, considering that it represents the first time that electrically neutral hydrogen formed. After the...

 the Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

 13.7 Ga (gigaannum, a unit of time equal to 109 years, or one billion years) and heavier elements
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 ejected by supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

s. About 4.6 Ga, the solar nebula began to contract, possibly due to the shock wave
Shock wave
A shock wave is a type of propagating disturbance. Like an ordinary wave, it carries energy and can propagate through a medium or in some cases in the absence of a material medium, through a field such as the electromagnetic field...

 of a nearby supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

. Such a shock wave would have also caused the nebula to rotate and gain angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

. As the cloud began to accelerate its rotation
Rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A three-dimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...

, gravity
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

 and inertia
Inertia
Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. It is proportional to an object's mass. The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics which are used to...

 flattened it into a protoplanetary disk
Protoplanetary disk
A protoplanetary disk is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas surrounding a young newly formed star, a T Tauri star, or Herbig Ae/Be star...

 oriented perpendicularly to its axis of rotation. Most of the mass concentrated in the middle and began to heat up, but small perturbations
Perturbation (astronomy)
Perturbation is a term used in astronomy in connection with descriptions of the complex motion of a massive body which is subject to appreciable gravitational effects from more than one other massive body....

 due to collisions and the angular momentum of other large debris created the means by which protoplanet
Protoplanet
Protoplanets are large planetary embryos that originate within protoplanetary discs and have undergone internal melting to produce differentiated interiors. They are believed to form out of kilometer-sized planetesimals that attract each other gravitationally and collide...

s up to several kilometres in length began to form, orbiting the nebular center.

The infall of material, increase in rotational speed and the crush of gravity created an enormous amount of kinetic energy at the center. Its inability to transfer that energy away through any other process at a rate capable of relieving the build-up resulted in the disk's center heating up. Ultimately, nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

 of hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 into helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 began, and eventually, after contraction, a T Tauri star
T Tauri star
T Tauri stars are a class of variable stars named after their prototype – T Tauri. They are found near molecular clouds and identified by their optical variability and strong chromospheric lines.-Characteristics:...

 ignited to create the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

. Meanwhile, as gravity caused matter
Matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 to condense around the previously perturbed objects outside the gravitational grasp of the new sun, dust particles and the rest of the protoplanetary disk
Protoplanetary disk
A protoplanetary disk is a rotating circumstellar disk of dense gas surrounding a young newly formed star, a T Tauri star, or Herbig Ae/Be star...

 began separating into rings. Successively larger fragments collided with one another and became larger objects, ultimately becoming protoplanets. These included one collection about 150 million kilometers from the center: Earth. The planet formed about 4.54 billion years
Age of the Earth
The age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years This age is based on evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples...

 ago (within an uncertainty of 1%) and was largely completed within 10–20 million years. The solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 of the newly formed T Tauri star cleared out most of the material in the disk that had not already condensed into larger bodies.

Computer simulations have shown that planets with distances equal to the terrestrial planet
Terrestrial planet
A terrestrial planet, telluric planet or rocky planet is a planet that is composed primarily of silicate rocks or metals. Within the Solar System, the terrestrial planets are the inner planets closest to the Sun...

s in our solar system can be created from a protoplanetary disk. The now widely accepted nebular hypothesis suggests that the same process, which gave rise to the solar system's planets, produces accretion disks around virtually all newly forming stars in the universe, some of which yield planets
Extrasolar planet
An extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, is a planet outside the Solar System. A total of such planets have been identified as of . It is now known that a substantial fraction of stars have planets, including perhaps half of all Sun-like stars...

.

Origin of the Earth's core and first atmosphere



The Proto-Earth grew by accretion
Accretion (astrophysics)
In astrophysics, the term accretion is used for at least two distinct processes.The first and most common is the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter, typically gaseous matter in an accretion disc. Accretion discs are common around smaller stars or stellar remnants...

, until the inner part of the protoplanet was hot enough to melt the heavy, siderophile metal
Metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

s. Such liquid metals, with now higher densities
Density
The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

, began to sink to the Earth's center of mass
Center of mass
In physics, the center of mass or barycenter of a system is the average location of all of its mass. In the case of a rigid body, the position of the center of mass is fixed in relation to the body...

. This so called iron catastrophe
Iron catastrophe
The iron catastrophe was a major event early in the history of Earth. After accumulation of the Earth's material into a spherical mass, the material was mostly uniform in composition...

 resulted in the separation of a primitive mantle
Primitive mantle
The primitive mantle is, in geochemistry, a hypothetical reservoir with the composition of the Earth's crust and mantle taken together.The currently accepted scientific hypothesis is that the Earth formed by accretion of material with a chondritic composition...

 and a (metallic) core
Inner core
The inner core of the Earth, its innermost hottest part as detected by seismological studies, is a primarily solid ball about in radius, or about 70% that of the Moon...

 only 10 million years after the Earth began to form, producing the layered structure of Earth
Structure of the Earth
The interior structure of the Earth, similar to the outer, is layered. These layers can be defined by either their chemical or their rheological properties. The Earth has an outer silicate solid crust, a highly viscous mantle, a liquid outer core that is much less viscous than the mantle, and a...

 and setting up the formation of Earth's magnetic field
Earth's magnetic field
Earth's magnetic field is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's inner core to where it meets the solar wind, a stream of energetic particles emanating from the Sun...

.

During the accretion of material to the protoplanet, a cloud of gaseous silica must have surrounded the Earth, to condense afterwards as solid rocks
Rock (geology)
In geology, rock or stone is a naturally occurring solid aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids.The Earth's outer solid layer, the lithosphere, is made of rock. In general rocks are of three types, namely, igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic...

 on the surface. What was left surrounding the planet was an early atmosphere of light (atmophile) elements from the solar nebula, mostly hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

, but the solar wind
Solar wind
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time...

 and Earth's heat would have driven off this atmosphere.

This changed when Earth accreted to about 40% its present radius, and gravitational attraction retained an atmosphere which included water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

.

4.54 Ga: Hadean and Archaean eons


Starting with the Earth's formation by accretion
Accretion (astrophysics)
In astrophysics, the term accretion is used for at least two distinct processes.The first and most common is the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter, typically gaseous matter in an accretion disc. Accretion discs are common around smaller stars or stellar remnants...

 from the solar nebula
Solar nebula
In cosmogony, the nebular hypothesis is the most widely accepted model explaining the formation and evolution of the Solar System. There is evidence that it was first proposed in 1734 by Emanuel Swedenborg. Originally applied only to our own Solar System, this method of planetary system formation...

 4.54 billion years ago
Age of the Earth
The age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years This age is based on evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples...

 (4.54 Ga), the first eon in the Earth's history is called the Hadean. It lasted until the Archaean eon, which began 3.8 Ga. The oldest rocks found on Earth date
Radiometric dating
Radiometric dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks, usually based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates...

 to about 4.0 Ga, and the oldest detrital
Detrital
Detritus is a geological term used to describe particles of rock derived from pre-existing rock through processes of weathering and erosion. Detrital particles can consist of lithic fragments , or of monomineralic fragments...

 zircon
Zircon
Zircon is a mineral belonging to the group of nesosilicates. Its chemical name is zirconium silicate and its corresponding chemical formula is ZrSiO4. A common empirical formula showing some of the range of substitution in zircon is 1–x4x–y...

 crystals in some rocks have been dated to about 4.4 Ga, close to the formation of the Earth's crust
Crust (geology)
In geology, the crust is the outermost solid shell of a rocky planet or natural satellite, which is chemically distinct from the underlying mantle...

 and the Earth itself. Because not much material from this time is preserved, little is known about Hadean times, but scientists hypothesize at an estimated 4.53 Ga, shortly after formation of an initial crust, the proto-Earth was impacted
Giant impact hypothesis
The giant impact hypothesis states that the Moon was created out of the debris left over from a collision between the young Earth and a Mars-sized body. The colliding body is sometimes called Theia for the mythical Greek Titan who was the mother of Selene, the goddess of the moon.The giant impact...

 by a smaller protoplanet
Protoplanet
Protoplanets are large planetary embryos that originate within protoplanetary discs and have undergone internal melting to produce differentiated interiors. They are believed to form out of kilometer-sized planetesimals that attract each other gravitationally and collide...

, which ejected part of the mantle
Mantle (geology)
The mantle is a part of a terrestrial planet or other rocky body large enough to have differentiation by density. The interior of the Earth, similar to the other terrestrial planets, is chemically divided into layers. The mantle is a highly viscous layer between the crust and the outer core....

 and crust into space and created the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

.

During the Hadean, the Earth's surface was under a continuous bombardment by meteorite
Meteorite
A meteorite is a natural object originating in outer space that survives impact with the Earth's surface. Meteorites can be big or small. Most meteorites derive from small astronomical objects called meteoroids, but they are also sometimes produced by impacts of asteroids...

s, and volcanism must have been severe due to the large heat flow and geothermal gradient
Geothermal gradient
Geothermal gradient is the rate of increasing temperature with respect to increasing depth in the Earth's interior. Away from tectonic plate boundaries, it is 25–30°C per km of depth in most of the world. Strictly speaking, geo-thermal necessarily refers to the Earth but the concept may be applied...

. The detrital zircon crystals dated to 4.4 Ga show evidence of having undergone contact with liquid water, suggesting that the planet already had oceans or seas at that time. From crater counts on other celestial bodies it is inferred that a period of intense meteorite impacts, called the "Late Heavy Bombardment
Late Heavy Bombardment
The Late Heavy Bombardment is a period of time approximately 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago during which a large number of impact craters are believed to have formed on the Moon, and by inference on Earth, Mercury, Venus, and Mars as well...

", began about 4.1 Ga, and concluded around 3.8 Ga, at the end of the Hadean.

By the beginning of the Archaean, the Earth had cooled significantly. It would have been impossible for most present day life forms to exist due to the composition of the Archaean atmosphere, which lacked oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 and an ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

. Nevertheless it is believed that primordial life began to evolve by the early Archaean, with some possible fossil
Fossil
Fossils are the preserved remains or traces of animals , plants, and other organisms from the remote past...

 finds dated to around 3.5 Ga. Some researchers, however, speculate that life could have begun during the early Hadean, as far back as 4.4 Ga, surviving the possible Late Heavy Bombardment period in hydrothermal vents below the Earth's surface.

4.52 Ga: The giant impact hypothesis

Main articles: Origin and evolution of the Moon and Giant impact hypothesis
Giant impact hypothesis
The giant impact hypothesis states that the Moon was created out of the debris left over from a collision between the young Earth and a Mars-sized body. The colliding body is sometimes called Theia for the mythical Greek Titan who was the mother of Selene, the goddess of the moon.The giant impact...



The Earth's relatively large natural satellite
Natural satellite
A natural satellite or moon is a celestial body that orbits a planet or smaller body, which is called its primary. The two terms are used synonymously for non-artificial satellites of planets, of dwarf planets, and of minor planets....

, the Moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

, is unique. During the Apollo program, rocks from the Moon's surface were brought to Earth. Radiometric dating
Radiometric dating
Radiometric dating is a technique used to date materials such as rocks, usually based on a comparison between the observed abundance of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope and its decay products, using known decay rates...

 of these rocks has shown the Moon to be 4527 ± 10 million years old, about 30 to 55 million years younger than other bodies in the solar system. (New evidence suggests the Moon formed even later, 4.48±0.02 Ga, or 70–110 Ma after the start of the Solar System.) Another notable feature is the relatively low density of the Moon, which must mean it does not have a large metallic core, like all other terrestrial bodies
Terrestrial planet
A terrestrial planet, telluric planet or rocky planet is a planet that is composed primarily of silicate rocks or metals. Within the Solar System, the terrestrial planets are the inner planets closest to the Sun...

 in the solar system. The Moon has a bulk composition closely resembling the Earth's mantle and crust together, without the Earth's core. This has led to the giant impact hypothesis, the idea that the Moon was formed during a giant impact of the proto-Earth with another protoplanet by accretion of the material blown off the mantles of the proto-Earth and impactor.

The impactor, sometimes named Theia, is thought to have been a little smaller than the current planet Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

. It could have formed by accretion of matter about 150 million kilometres from the Sun and Earth, at their fourth or fifth Lagrangian point
Lagrangian point
The Lagrangian points are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects...

. Its orbit may have been stable at first, but destabilized as Theia's mass increased due to the accretion of matter. Theia oscillated in larger and larger orbits around the Lagrangian point until it finally collided with Earth about 4.533 Ga.
Models reveal that when an impactor this size struck the proto-Earth at a low angle and relatively low speed (8–20 km/sec), much material from the mantles and crusts of the proto-Earth and the impactor was ejected into space, where much of it stayed in orbit around the Earth. This material would eventually form the Moon. However, the metallic cores of the impactor would have sunk through the Earth's mantle to fuse with the Earth's core, depleting the Moon of metallic material. The giant impact hypothesis thus explains the Moon's abnormal composition. The ejecta in orbit around the Earth could have condensed into a single body within a couple of weeks. Under the influence of its own gravity, the ejected material became a more spherical body: the Moon.

The radiometric ages show the Earth existed already for at least 10 million years before the impact, enough time to allow for differentiation of the Earth's primitive mantle and core. Then, when the impact occurred, only material from the mantle was ejected, leaving the Earth's core of heavy siderophile elements untouched.

The impact had some important consequences for the young Earth. It released an enormous amount of energy, causing both the Earth and Moon to be completely molten. Immediately after the impact, the Earth's mantle was vigorously convecting
Convection
Convection is the movement of molecules within fluids and rheids. It cannot take place in solids, since neither bulk current flows nor significant diffusion can take place in solids....

, the surface was a large magma ocean. The planet's first atmosphere must have been completely blown away by the impact. The impact is also thought to have changed Earth’s axis to produce the large 23.5° axial tilt
Axial tilt
In astronomy, axial tilt is the angle between an object's rotational axis, and a line perpendicular to its orbital plane...

 that is responsible for Earth’s seasons (a simple, ideal model of the planets’ origins would have axial tilts of 0° with no recognizable seasons). It may also have sped up Earth’s rotation.

4.3 Ga: Oceans and atmosphere


Because the Earth lacked an atmosphere immediately after the giant impact, cooling must have occurred quickly. Within 150 million years, a solid crust with a basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

ic composition must have formed. The felsic
Felsic
The word "felsic" is a term used in geology to refer to silicate minerals, magma, and rocks which are enriched in the lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium....

 continental crust
Continental crust
The continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks which form the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial due to more felsic, or granitic, bulk composition, which lies in...

 of today did not yet exist. Within the Earth, further differentiation could only begin when the mantle had at least partly solidified again. Nevertheless, during the early Archaean (about 3.0 Ga) the mantle was still much hotter than today, probably around 1600 °C. This means the fraction of partially molten material was still much larger than today.

Steam escaped
Outgassing
Outgassing is the release of a gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in some material. As an example, research has shown how the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere has sometimes been linked to ocean outgassing...

 from the crust, and more gases were released by volcano
Volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

es, completing the second atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

. Additional water was imported by bolide collisions, probably from asteroids ejected from the outer asteroid belt
Asteroid belt
The asteroid belt is the region of the Solar System located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter. It is occupied by numerous irregularly shaped bodies called asteroids or minor planets...

 under the influence of Jupiter
Jupiter
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the Solar System. It is a gas giant with mass one-thousandth that of the Sun but is two and a half times the mass of all the other planets in our Solar System combined. Jupiter is classified as a gas giant along with Saturn,...

's gravity.

The large amount of water on Earth can never have been produced by volcanism and degassing alone. It is assumed the water was derived from impacting comet
Comet
A comet is an icy small Solar System body that, when close enough to the Sun, displays a visible coma and sometimes also a tail. These phenomena are both due to the effects of solar radiation and the solar wind upon the nucleus of the comet...

s that contained ice. Though most comets are today in orbits farther away from the Sun than Neptune
Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. Named for the Roman god of the sea, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter and the third largest by mass. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times...

, computer simulations show they were originally far more common in the inner parts of the solar system. However, most of the water on Earth was probably derived from small impacting protoplanets, objects comparable with today's small icy moons of the outer planets. Impacts of these objects could have enriched the terrestrial planets (Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

, Venus
Venus
Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. The planet is named after Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. After the Moon, it is the brightest natural object in the night sky, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6, bright enough to cast shadows...

, the Earth and Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

) with water, carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

, ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

, nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 and other volatiles
Volatiles
In planetary science, volatiles are that group of chemical elements and chemical compounds with low boiling points that are associated with a planet's or moon's crust and/or atmosphere. Examples include nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen, and methane, all compounds of C, H, O...

. If all water on Earth was derived from comets alone, millions of comet impacts would be required to support this theory. Computer simulations illustrate that this is not an unreasonable number.

As the planet cooled, cloud
Cloud
A cloud is a visible mass of liquid droplets or frozen crystals made of water and/or various chemicals suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. They are also known as aerosols. Clouds in Earth's atmosphere are studied in the cloud physics branch of meteorology...

s formed. Rain created the oceans. Recent evidence suggests the oceans may have begun
Origin of water on Earth
The question of the origin of water on Earth, or the question of why there is clearly more water on the Earth than on the other planets of the Solar System, has not been clarified...

 forming by 4.2 Ga, or as early as 4.4 Ga. In any event, by the start of the Archaean eon the Earth was already covered with oceans. The new atmosphere probably contained water vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

, carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

, and smaller amounts of other gases. As the output of the Sun
Faint young Sun paradox
The faint young Sun paradox or problem describes the apparent contradiction between observations of liquid water early in the Earth's history and the astrophysical expectation that the Sun's output would be only 70% as intense during that epoch as it is during the modern epoch. The issue was raised...

 was only 70% of the current amount, significant amounts of greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

 in the atmosphere most likely prevented the surface water from freezing. Free oxygen would have been bound by hydrogen or minerals on the surface. Volcanic
Volcano
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

 activity was intense and, without an ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

 to hinder its entry, ultraviolet radiation flooded the surface.


4.0 Ga: The first continents


Mantle convection
Mantle convection
Mantle convection is the slow creeping motion of Earth's rocky mantle caused by convection currents carrying heat from the interior of the Earth to the surface. The Earth's surface lithosphere, which rides atop the asthenosphere , is divided into a number of plates that are continuously being...

, the process that drives plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 today, is a result of heat flow from the core to the Earth's surface. It involves the creation of rigid tectonic plates at mid-oceanic ridges. These plates are destroyed by subduction
Subduction
In geology, subduction is the process that takes place at convergent boundaries by which one tectonic plate moves under another tectonic plate, sinking into the Earth's mantle, as the plates converge. These 3D regions of mantle downwellings are known as "Subduction Zones"...

 into the mantle at subduction zones. The inner Earth was warmer during the Hadean and Archaean eons, so convection in the mantle must have been faster. When a process similar to present day plate tectonics did occur, this would have gone faster too. Most geologists believe that during the Hadean and Archaean, subduction zones were more common, and therefore tectonic plates were smaller.

The initial crust, formed when the Earth's surface first solidified, totally disappeared from a combination of this fast Hadean plate tectonics and the intense impacts of the Late Heavy Bombardment. It is, however, assumed that this crust must have been basalt
Basalt
Basalt is a common extrusive volcanic rock. It is usually grey to black and fine-grained due to rapid cooling of lava at the surface of a planet. It may be porphyritic containing larger crystals in a fine matrix, or vesicular, or frothy scoria. Unweathered basalt is black or grey...

ic in composition, like today's oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

, because little crustal differentiation had yet taken place. The first larger pieces of continental crust
Continental crust
The continental crust is the layer of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks which form the continents and the areas of shallow seabed close to their shores, known as continental shelves. This layer is sometimes called sial due to more felsic, or granitic, bulk composition, which lies in...

, which is a product of differentiation of lighter elements during partial melting
Partial melting
Partial melting occurs when only a portion of a solid is melted. For mixed substances, such as a rock containing several different minerals or a mineral that displays solid solution, this melt can be different from the bulk composition of the solid....

 in the lower crust, appeared at the end of the Hadean, about 4.0 Ga. What is left of these first small continents are called craton
Craton
A craton is an old and stable part of the continental lithosphere. Having often survived cycles of merging and rifting of continents, cratons are generally found in the interiors of tectonic plates. They are characteristically composed of ancient crystalline basement rock, which may be covered by...

s. These pieces of late Hadean and early Archaean crust form the cores around which today's continents grew.

The oldest rocks on Earth are found in the North American craton of Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. They are tonalite
Tonalite
Tonalite is an igneous, plutonic rock, of felsic composition, with phaneritic texture. Feldspar is present as plagioclase with 10% or less alkali feldspar. Quartz is present as more than 20% of the rock. Amphiboles and pyroxenes are common accessory minerals.In older references tonalite is...

s from about 4.0 Ga. They show traces of metamorphism
Metamorphism
Metamorphism is the solid-state recrystallization of pre-existing rocks due to changes in physical and chemical conditions, primarily heat, pressure, and the introduction of chemically active fluids. Mineralogical, chemical and crystallographic changes can occur during this process...

 by high temperature, but also sedimentary grains that have been rounded by erosion during transport by water, showing rivers and seas existed then.

Cratons consist primarily of two alternating types of terrane
Terrane
A terrane in geology is short-hand term for a tectonostratigraphic terrane, which is a fragment of crustal material formed on, or broken off from, one tectonic plate and accreted or "sutured" to crust lying on another plate...

s. The first are so called greenstone belt
Greenstone belt
Greenstone belts are zones of variably metamorphosed mafic to ultramafic volcanic sequences with associated sedimentary rocks that occur within Archaean and Proterozoic cratons between granite and gneiss bodies....

s, consisting of low grade metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. These "greenstones" are similar to the sediments today found in oceanic trench
Oceanic trench
The oceanic trenches are hemispheric-scale long but narrow topographic depressions of the sea floor. They are also the deepest parts of the ocean floor....

es, above subduction zones. For this reason, greenstones are sometimes seen as evidence for subduction during the Archaean. The second type is a complex of felsic
Felsic
The word "felsic" is a term used in geology to refer to silicate minerals, magma, and rocks which are enriched in the lighter elements such as silicon, oxygen, aluminium, sodium, and potassium....

 magmatic rocks. These rocks are mostly tonalite
Tonalite
Tonalite is an igneous, plutonic rock, of felsic composition, with phaneritic texture. Feldspar is present as plagioclase with 10% or less alkali feldspar. Quartz is present as more than 20% of the rock. Amphiboles and pyroxenes are common accessory minerals.In older references tonalite is...

, trondhjemite
Trondhjemite
Trondhjemite is a leucocratic intrusive igneous rock. It is a variety of tonalite in which the plagioclase is mostly in the form of oligoclase. Trondhjemites are sometimes known as plagiogranites....

 or granodiorite
Granodiorite
Granodiorite is an intrusive igneous rock similar to granite, but containing more plagioclase than orthoclase-type feldspar. Officially, it is defined as a phaneritic igneous rock with greater than 20% quartz by volume where at least 65% of the feldspar is plagioclase. It usually contains abundant...

, types of rock similar in composition to granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 (hence such terranes are called TTG-terranes). TTG-complexes are seen as the relicts of the first continental crust, formed by partial melting in basalt. The alternation between greenstone belts and TTG-complexes is interpreted as a tectonic situation in which small proto-continents were separated by a thorough network of subduction zones.

3.5 Ga: Life



The details of the origin of life
Life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...

 are unknown, but the basic principles have been established. There are two schools of thought about the origin of life. One suggests that organic components arrived on Earth from space (see “Panspermia”), while the other argues that they originated on Earth. Nevertheless, both schools suggest similar mechanisms by which life initially arose.

If life arose on Earth, the timing of this event is highly speculative—perhaps it arose around 4 Ga. It is possible that, as a result of repeated formation and destruction of oceans during that time period caused by high energy asteroid bombardment, life may have arisen and been extinguished more than once.

In the energetic chemistry of early Earth, a molecule gained the ability to make copies of itself – a replicator
Self-replication
Self-replication is any behavior of a dynamical system that yields construction of an identical copy of that dynamical system. Biological cells, given suitable environments, reproduce by cell division. During cell division, DNA is replicated and can be transmitted to offspring during reproduction...

. (More accurately, it promoted the chemical reactions which produced a copy of itself.) The replication was not always accurate: some copies were slightly different from their parent.

If the change destroyed the copying ability of the molecule, the molecule did not produce any copies, and the line “died out”. On the other hand, a few rare changes might have made the molecule replicate faster or better: those “strains” would become more numerous and “successful”. This is an early example of evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

 on abiotic material. The variations present in matter and molecules combined with the universal tendency for systems to move towards a lower energy state allowed for an early method of natural selection. As choice raw materials (“food”) became depleted, strains which could utilize different materials, or perhaps halt the development of other strains and steal their resources, became more numerous.

The nature of the first replicator is unknown because its function was long since superseded by life’s current replicator, DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

. Several models have been proposed explaining how a replicator might have developed. Different replicators have been posited, including organic chemicals such as modern protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s, nucleic acid
Nucleic acid
Nucleic acids are biological molecules essential for life, and include DNA and RNA . Together with proteins, nucleic acids make up the most important macromolecules; each is found in abundance in all living things, where they function in encoding, transmitting and expressing genetic information...

s, phospholipid
Phospholipid
Phospholipids are a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes as they can form lipid bilayers. Most phospholipids contain a diglyceride, a phosphate group, and a simple organic molecule such as choline; one exception to this rule is sphingomyelin, which is derived from...

s, crystal
Crystal
A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an orderly repeating pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography...

s, or even quantum systems. There is currently no way to determine whether any of these models closely fits the origin of life on Earth
Life on Earth
Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough is a television natural history series made by the BBC in association with Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz Productions...

.

One of the older theories, one which has been worked out in some detail, will serve as an example of how this might occur. The high energy from volcanoes, lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

, and ultraviolet radiation could help drive chemical reactions producing more complex molecules from simple compounds such as methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 and ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

. Among these were many of the simpler organic
Organic chemistry
Organic chemistry is a subdiscipline within chemistry involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-based compounds, hydrocarbons, and their derivatives...

 compounds, including nucleobases and amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. As the amount and concentration of this “organic soup” increased, different molecules reacted with one another. Sometimes more complex molecules would result—perhaps clay
Clay
Clay is a general term including many combinations of one or more clay minerals with traces of metal oxides and organic matter. Geologic clay deposits are mostly composed of phyllosilicate minerals containing variable amounts of water trapped in the mineral structure.- Formation :Clay minerals...

 provided a framework to collect and concentrate organic material.

Certain molecules could speed up a chemical reaction. All this continued for a long time, with reactions occurring at random, until by chance it produced a replicator molecule. In any case, at some point, the function of the replicator was superseded by DNA; all known life (except some viruses and prions) use DNA as their replicator, in an almost identical manner (see Genetic code
Genetic code
The genetic code is the set of rules by which information encoded in genetic material is translated into proteins by living cells....

).

Modern life has its replicating material packaged inside a cellular membrane. It is easier to understand the origin of the cell membrane than the origin of the replicator, because a cell membrane is made of phospholipid
Phospholipid
Phospholipids are a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes as they can form lipid bilayers. Most phospholipids contain a diglyceride, a phosphate group, and a simple organic molecule such as choline; one exception to this rule is sphingomyelin, which is derived from...

 molecules, which often form a bilayer
Bilayer
A bilayer is a double layer of closely packed atoms or molecules. The properties of bilayers are studied in condensed matter physics, often in the context of semiconductor devices, where two distinct materials are united to form junctions ....

 spontaneously when placed in water. Under certain conditions, many such spheres can be formed (see “The bubble theory”).

The prevailing theory is that the membrane formed after the replicator, which perhaps by then was RNA
RNA
Ribonucleic acid , or RNA, is one of the three major macromolecules that are essential for all known forms of life....

 (the RNA world hypothesis), along with its replicating apparatus and other biomolecules. Initial protocells may have simply burst when they grew too large; the scattered contents may then have recolonized other “bubbles”. Protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s that stabilized the membrane, or that later assisted in an orderly division, would have promoted the proliferation of those cell lines.

RNA is a likely candidate for an early replicator, because it can both store genetic information and catalyze reactions. At some point DNA took over the genetic storage role from RNA, and protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

s known as enzyme
Enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

s took over the catalysis role, leaving RNA to transfer information, synthesize proteins and regulate the process. There is increasing belief that these early cells evolved in association with undersea volcanic vents known as black smokers or even hot, deep rocks.

It is believed that of this multiplicity of protocells, only one line
Lineage (evolution)
An evolutionary lineage is a sequence of species, that form a line of descent, each new species the direct result of speciation from an immediate ancestral species. Lineages are subsets of the evolutionary tree of life. Lineages are often determined by the techniques of molecular systematics.-...

 survived. Current phylogentic
Phylogenetics
In biology, phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relatedness among groups of organisms , which is discovered through molecular sequencing data and morphological data matrices...

 evidence suggests that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) lived during the early Archean
Archean
The Archean , also spelled Archeozoic or Archæozoic) is a geologic eon before the Paleoproterozoic Era of the Proterozoic Eon, before 2.5 Ga ago. Instead of being based on stratigraphy, this date is defined chronometrically...

 eon, perhaps roughly 3.5 Ga or earlier. This LUCA cell is the ancestor of all life on Earth today. It was probably a prokaryote
Prokaryote
The prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus , or any other membrane-bound organelles. The organisms that have a cell nucleus are called eukaryotes. Most prokaryotes are unicellular, but a few such as myxobacteria have multicellular stages in their life cycles...

, possessing a cell membrane and probably ribosome
Ribosome
A ribosome is a component of cells that assembles the twenty specific amino acid molecules to form the particular protein molecule determined by the nucleotide sequence of an RNA molecule....

s, but lacking a nucleus
Cell nucleus
In cell biology, the nucleus is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in eukaryotic cells. It contains most of the cell's genetic material, organized as multiple long linear DNA molecules in complex with a large variety of proteins, such as histones, to form chromosomes. The genes within these...

 or membrane-bound organelle
Organelle
In cell biology, an organelle is a specialized subunit within a cell that has a specific function, and is usually separately enclosed within its own lipid bilayer....

s such as mitochondria
Mitochondrion
In cell biology, a mitochondrion is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in most eukaryotic cells. These organelles range from 0.5 to 1.0 micrometers in diameter...

 or chloroplast
Chloroplast
Chloroplasts are organelles found in plant cells and other eukaryotic organisms that conduct photosynthesis. Chloroplasts capture light energy to conserve free energy in the form of ATP and reduce NADP to NADPH through a complex set of processes called photosynthesis.Chloroplasts are green...

s.

Like all modern cells, it used DNA as its genetic code, RNA for information transfer and protein synthesis, and enzyme
Enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

s to catalyze reactions. Some scientists believe that instead of a single organism being the last universal common ancestor, there were populations of organisms exchanging genes in lateral gene transfer.

Proterozoic eon



The Proterozoic
Proterozoic
The Proterozoic is a geological eon representing a period before the first abundant complex life on Earth. The name Proterozoic comes from the Greek "earlier life"...

 is the eon
Geologic time scale
The geologic time scale provides a system of chronologic measurement relating stratigraphy to time that is used by geologists, paleontologists and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the history of the Earth...

 of Earth's history that lasted from 2.5 Ga to 542 Ma. In this time span, the cratons grew into continents with modern sizes. For the first time plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 took place in a modern sense. The change to an oxygen-rich atmosphere was a crucial development. Life developed from prokaryote
Prokaryote
The prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus , or any other membrane-bound organelles. The organisms that have a cell nucleus are called eukaryotes. Most prokaryotes are unicellular, but a few such as myxobacteria have multicellular stages in their life cycles...

s into eukaryote
Eukaryote
A eukaryote is an organism whose cells contain complex structures enclosed within membranes. Eukaryotes may more formally be referred to as the taxon Eukarya or Eukaryota. The defining membrane-bound structure that sets eukaryotic cells apart from prokaryotic cells is the nucleus, or nuclear...

s and multicellular forms. The Proterozoic saw a couple of severe ice ages called snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
The Snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, some time earlier than 650 Ma . Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical...

s. After the end of the last Snowball Earth about 600 Ma, the evolution of life on Earth accelerated. About 580 Ma, the Ediacara biota
Ediacara biota
The Ediacara biota consisted of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms which lived during the Ediacaran Period . Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms.Simple multicellular organisms such as...

 formed the prelude for the Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian explosion
The Cambrian explosion or Cambrian radiation was the relatively rapid appearance, around , of most major phyla, as demonstrated in the fossil record, accompanied by major diversification of other organisms, including animals, phytoplankton, and calcimicrobes...

.

3.0 Ga: Oxygen revolution





The first cells were likely heterotroph
Heterotroph
A heterotroph is an organism that cannot fix carbon and uses organic carbon for growth. This contrasts with autotrophs, such as plants and algae, which can use energy from sunlight or inorganic compounds to produce organic compounds such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from inorganic carbon...

s, using surrounding organic molecules (including those from other cells) as raw material and an energy source. As the food supply diminished, a new strategy evolved in some cells. Instead of relying on the diminishing amounts of free-existing organic molecules, these cells adopted sunlight
Sunlight
Sunlight, in the broad sense, is the total frequency spectrum of electromagnetic radiation given off by the Sun. On Earth, sunlight is filtered through the Earth's atmosphere, and solar radiation is obvious as daylight when the Sun is above the horizon.When the direct solar radiation is not blocked...

 as an energy source. Estimates vary, but by about 3 Ga, something similar to modern oxygenic photosynthesis
Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since they can...

 had probably developed, which made the sun’s energy available not only to autotrophs but also to the heterotrophs that consumed them. This type of photosynthesis, which became by far the most common, used the abundant carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 and water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 as raw materials and, with the energy of sunlight, produced energy-rich organic molecules (carbohydrate
Carbohydrate
A carbohydrate is an organic compound with the empirical formula ; that is, consists only of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with a hydrogen:oxygen atom ratio of 2:1 . However, there are exceptions to this. One common example would be deoxyribose, a component of DNA, which has the empirical...

s).

Moreover, oxygen was released as a waste product of the photosynthesis. At first, it became bound up with limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

, iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

, and other minerals. There is substantial proof of this in iron-oxide rich layers in geological strata that correspond with this period. The reaction of the minerals with oxygen would have turned the oceans green. When most of the exposed readily reacting minerals were oxidized, oxygen finally began to accumulate in the atmosphere. Though each cell only produced a minute amount of oxygen, the combined metabolism of many cells over a vast time transformed Earth’s atmosphere to its current state. Among the oldest examples of oxygen-producing lifeforms are fossil stromatolite
Stromatolite
Stromatolites or stromatoliths are layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria ....

s. This was Earth’s third atmosphere.

Some of the oxygen was stimulated by incoming ultraviolet radiation to form ozone
Ozone
Ozone , or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope...

, which collected in a layer near the upper part of the atmosphere. The ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

 absorbed, and still absorbs, a significant amount of the ultraviolet radiation that once had passed through the atmosphere. It allowed cells to colonize the surface of the ocean and eventually the land: without the ozone layer, ultraviolet radiation bombarding land and sea would have caused unsustainable levels of mutation
Mutation
In molecular biology and genetics, mutations are changes in a genomic sequence: the DNA sequence of a cell's genome or the DNA or RNA sequence of a virus. They can be defined as sudden and spontaneous changes in the cell. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic...

 in exposed cells.

Photosynthesis had another, major, and world-changing impact. Oxygen was toxic; probably much life on Earth died out as its levels rose in what is known as the "oxygen catastrophe
Oxygen Catastrophe
The Great Oxygenation Event , also called the Oxygen Catastrophe or Oxygen Crisis or Great Oxidation, was the biologically induced appearance of free oxygen in Earth's atmosphere. This major environmental change happened around 2.4 billion years ago.Photosynthesis was producing oxygen both before...

". Resistant forms survived and thrived, and some developed the ability to use oxygen to increase their metabolism and obtain more energy from the same food.

2.3 Ga: Snowball Earth and ozone layer



An oxygen-rich atmosphere had two principal advantages for life. Organisms not using oxygen for their metabolism, such as anaerobe bacteria, base their metabolism on fermentation
Fermentation (biochemistry)
Fermentation is the process of extracting energy from the oxidation of organic compounds, such as carbohydrates, using an endogenous electron acceptor, which is usually an organic compound. In contrast, respiration is where electrons are donated to an exogenous electron acceptor, such as oxygen,...

. The abundance of oxygen makes respiration
Cellular respiration
Cellular respiration is the set of the metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate , and then release waste products. The reactions involved in respiration are catabolic reactions that involve...

 possible, a much more effective energy source for life than fermentation. The second advantage of an oxygen-rich atmosphere is that oxygen forms ozone
Ozone
Ozone , or trioxygen, is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope...

 in the higher atmosphere, causing the emergence of the Earth's ozone layer
Ozone layer
The ozone layer is a layer in Earth's atmosphere which contains relatively high concentrations of ozone . This layer absorbs 97–99% of the Sun's high frequency ultraviolet light, which is potentially damaging to the life forms on Earth...

. The ozone layer protects the Earth's surface from ultraviolet radiation, which is harmful for life. Without the ozone layer, the development of more complex life later on would probably have been impossible.

The natural evolution of the Sun
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

 made it progressively more luminous
Luminosity
Luminosity is a measurement of brightness.-In photometry and color imaging:In photometry, luminosity is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to luminance, which is the density of luminous intensity in a given direction. The SI unit for luminance is candela per square metre.The luminosity function...

 during the Archaean and Proterozoic eons; the Sun's luminosity increases 6% every billion years. As a result, the Earth began to receive more heat from the Sun in the Proterozoic eon. However, the Earth did not get warmer. Instead, the geological record seems to suggest it cooled dramatically during the early Proterozoic. Glacial deposits found in all cratons show that about 2.3 Ga, the Earth underwent its first big ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 (the Makganyene glaciation). Some scientists suggest this and following Proterozoic ice ages were so severe that the planet was totally frozen over from the poles to the equator, a hypothesis called Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
The Snowball Earth hypothesis posits that the Earth's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, some time earlier than 650 Ma . Proponents of the hypothesis argue that it best explains sedimentary deposits generally regarded as of glacial origin at tropical...

. Not all geologists agree with this scenario and older, Archaean ice ages have been postulated, but the ice age 2.3 Ga is the first such event for which the evidence is widely accepted.

The ice age around 2.3 Ga could have been directly caused by the increased oxygen concentration in the atmosphere, which caused the decrease of methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 (CH4) in the atmosphere. Methane is a strong greenhouse gas
Greenhouse gas
A greenhouse gas is a gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range. This process is the fundamental cause of the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone...

, but with oxygen it reacts to form CO2, a less effective greenhouse gas. When free oxygen became available in the atmosphere, the concentration of methane could have decreased dramatically, enough to counter the effect of the increasing heat flow from the Sun.

2.0 Ga: Proterozoic development of life




Modern taxonomy
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 classifies life into three domains
Three-domain system
The three-domain system is a biological classification introduced by Carl Woese in 1977 that divides cellular life forms into archaea, bacteria, and eukaryote domains. In particular, it emphasizes the separation of prokaryotes into two groups, originally called Eubacteria and Archaebacteria...

. The time of the origin of these domains is uncertain. The Bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

 domain probably first split off from the other forms of life (sometimes called Neomura
Neomura
Neomura is a clade composed of the two domains of life of Archaea and Eukaryota. The group was first proposed by Thomas Cavalier-Smith and its name means "new walls"; so called because it is thought to have evolved from Bacteria, and one of the major changes was the replacement of peptidoglycan...

), but this supposition is controversial. Soon after this, by 2 Ga, the Neomura split into the Archaea
Archaea
The Archaea are a group of single-celled microorganisms. A single individual or species from this domain is called an archaeon...

 and the Eukarya. Eukaryotic cells (Eukarya) are larger and more complex than prokaryotic cells (Bacteria and Archaea), and the origin of that complexity is only now becoming known.

Around this time, the first proto-mitochondrion
Proto-mitochondrion
The proto-mitochondrion is the ancestral bacterial endosymbiont from which all mitochondriaare thought to be derived.-Phylogeny:The phylogenetic analyses of the few genes that are still encoded in the genomes of modern mitochondria suggest an alpha-proteobacterial origin for this endosymbiont...

 was formed. A bacterial cell related to today’s Rickettsia
Rickettsia
Rickettsia is a genus of non-motile, Gram-negative, non-sporeforming, highly pleomorphic bacteria that can present as cocci , rods or thread-like . Being obligate intracellular parasites, the Rickettsia survival depends on entry, growth, and replication within the cytoplasm of eukaryotic host cells...

, which had evolved to metabolize oxygen
Cellular respiration
Cellular respiration is the set of the metabolic reactions and processes that take place in the cells of organisms to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine triphosphate , and then release waste products. The reactions involved in respiration are catabolic reactions that involve...

, entered a larger prokaryotic cell, which lacked that capability. Perhaps the large cell attempted to digest the smaller one but failed (possibly due to the evolution of prey defenses). The smaller cell may have tried to parasitize the larger one. In any case, the smaller cell survived inside the larger cell. Using oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, it metabolized the larger cell’s waste products and derived more energy. Some of this excess energy was returned to the host. The smaller cell replicated inside the larger one. Soon, a stable symbiosis
Symbiosis
Symbiosis is close and often long-term interaction between different biological species. In 1877 Bennett used the word symbiosis to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens...

 developed between the large cell and the smaller cells inside it. Over time, the host cell acquired some of the genes of the smaller cells, and the two kinds became dependent on each other: the larger cell could not survive without the energy produced by the smaller ones, and these in turn could not survive without the raw materials provided by the larger cell. The whole cell is now considered a single organism
Organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

, and the smaller cells are classified as organelle
Organelle
In cell biology, an organelle is a specialized subunit within a cell that has a specific function, and is usually separately enclosed within its own lipid bilayer....

s called mitochondria
Mitochondrion
In cell biology, a mitochondrion is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in most eukaryotic cells. These organelles range from 0.5 to 1.0 micrometers in diameter...

.

A similar event occurred with photosynthetic cyanobacteria entering large heterotrophic cells and becoming chloroplast
Chloroplast
Chloroplasts are organelles found in plant cells and other eukaryotic organisms that conduct photosynthesis. Chloroplasts capture light energy to conserve free energy in the form of ATP and reduce NADP to NADPH through a complex set of processes called photosynthesis.Chloroplasts are green...

s. Probably as a result of these changes, a line of cells capable of photosynthesis split off from the other eukaryotes more than 1 billion years ago. There were probably several such inclusion events, as the figure at right suggests. Besides the well-established endosymbiotic theory of the cellular origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts, it has been suggested that cells led to peroxisomes, spirochetes led to cilia and flagella, and that perhaps a DNA virus
DNA virus
A DNA virus is a virus that has DNA as its genetic material and replicates using a DNA-dependent DNA polymerase. The nucleic acid is usually double-stranded DNA but may also be single-stranded DNA . DNA viruses belong to either Group I or Group II of the Baltimore classification system for viruses...

 led to the cell nucleus
Cell nucleus
In cell biology, the nucleus is a membrane-enclosed organelle found in eukaryotic cells. It contains most of the cell's genetic material, organized as multiple long linear DNA molecules in complex with a large variety of proteins, such as histones, to form chromosomes. The genes within these...

,, though none of these theories is widely accepted.


Archaeans, bacteria, and eukaryotes continued to diversify and to become more complex and better adapted to their environments. Each domain repeatedly split into multiple lineages, although little is known about the history of the archaea and bacteria. Around 1.1 Ga, the supercontinent
Supercontinent
In geology, a supercontinent is a landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton. The assembly of cratons and accreted terranes that form Eurasia qualifies as a supercontinent today.-History:...

 Rodinia
Rodinia
In geology, Rodinia is the name of a supercontinent, a continent which contained most or all of Earth's landmass. According to plate tectonic reconstructions, Rodinia existed between 1.1 billion and 750 million years ago, in the Neoproterozoic era...

 was assembling. The plant
Plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

, animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

, and fungi lines had all split, though they still existed as solitary cells. Some of these lived in colonies, and gradually some division of labor began to take place; for instance, cells on the periphery might have started to assume different roles from those in the interior. Although the division between a colony with specialized cells and a multicellular organism is not always clear, around 1 billion years ago the first multicellular plants emerged, probably green algae
Green algae
The green algae are the large group of algae from which the embryophytes emerged. As such, they form a paraphyletic group, although the group including both green algae and embryophytes is monophyletic...

. Possibly by around 900 Ma true multicellularity had also evolved in animals.

At first it probably resembled today’s sponges, which have totipotent cells that allow a disrupted organism to reassemble itself. As the division of labor was completed in all lines of multicellular organisms, cells became more specialized and more dependent on each other; isolated cells would die.

Supercontinents in the Proterozoic era



When the theory of Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics
Plate tectonics is a scientific theory that describes the large scale motions of Earth's lithosphere...

 was developed around 1960, geologists began to reconstruct the movements and positions of the continents in the past. This appeared relatively easy until about 250 million years ago, when all continents were united in what is called the "supercontinent
Supercontinent
In geology, a supercontinent is a landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton. The assembly of cratons and accreted terranes that form Eurasia qualifies as a supercontinent today.-History:...

" Pangaea
Pangaea
Pangaea, Pangæa, or Pangea is hypothesized as a supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 250 million years ago, before the component continents were separated into their current configuration....

. Before that time, reconstructions cannot rely on apparent similarities in coastlines or ages of oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

, but only on geologic observations and paleomagnetic
Paleomagnetism
Paleomagnetism is the study of the record of the Earth's magnetic field in rocks. Certain minerals in rocks lock-in a record of the direction and intensity of the magnetic field when they form. This record provides information on the past behavior of Earth's magnetic field and the past location of...

 data.

Throughout the history of the Earth, there have been times when the continental mass came together to form a supercontinent, followed by the break-up of the supercontinent and new continents moving apart again. This repetition of tectonic events is called a Wilson cycle. The further back in time, the scarcer and harder to interpret the data get. It is at least clear that, about 1000 to 830 Ma, most continental mass was united in the supercontinent Rodinia
Rodinia
In geology, Rodinia is the name of a supercontinent, a continent which contained most or all of Earth's landmass. According to plate tectonic reconstructions, Rodinia existed between 1.1 billion and 750 million years ago, in the Neoproterozoic era...

. Rodinia was not the first supercontinent; it formed at ~1.0 Ga by accretion and collision of fragments produced by breakup of the older supercontinent, called Nuna or Columbia, which was assembled by global-scale 2.0-1.8 Ga collision events. This means plate tectonic processes similar to today's must have been active during the Proterozoic.

After the break-up of Rodinia about 800 Ma, it is possible the continents joined again around 550 Ma. The hypothetical supercontinent is sometimes referred to as Pannotia or Vendia
Pannotia
Pannotia, first described by Ian W. D. Dalziel in 1997, is a hypothetical supercontinent that existed from the Pan-African orogeny about six hundred million years ago to the end of the Precambrian about five hundred and fifty million years ago. It is also known as the Vendian supercontinent...

. The evidence for it is a phase of continental collision
Continental collision
Continental collision is a phenomenon of the plate tectonics of Earth that occurs at convergent boundaries. Continental collision is a variation on the fundamental process of subduction, whereby the subduction zone is destroyed, mountains produced, and two continents sutured together...

 known as the Pan-African orogeny
Pan-African orogeny
The Pan-African orogeny was a series of major Neoproterozoic orogenic events which related to the formation of the supercontinents Gondwana and Pannotia about 600 million years ago....

, which joined the continental masses of current-day Africa, South-America, Antarctica and Australia. It is extremely likely, however, that the aggregation of continental masses was not completed, since a continent called Laurentia
Laurentia
Laurentia is a large area of continental craton, which forms the ancient geological core of the North American continent...

 (roughly equivalent to current-day North America) had already started breaking off around 610 Ma. It is at least certain that by the end of the Proterozoic eon, most of the continental mass lay united in a position around the south pole.

Late Proterozoic climate and life



The end of the Proterozoic saw at least two Snowball Earths, so severe that the surface of the oceans may have been completely frozen. This happened about 710 and 640 Ma, in the Cryogenian
Cryogenian
The Cryogenian is a geologic period that lasted from . It forms the second geologic period of the Neoproterozoic Era, preceded by the Tonian Period and followed by the Ediacaran...

 period. These severe glaciations are less easy to explain than the early Proterozoic Snowball Earth. Most paleoclimatologists think the cold episodes had something to do with the formation of the supercontinent Rodinia. Because Rodinia was centered on the equator, rates of chemical weathering increased and carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

 (CO2) was taken from the atmosphere. Because CO2 is an important greenhouse gas, climates cooled globally.

In the same way, during the Snowball Earths most of the continental surface was in permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

, which decreased chemical weathering again, leading to the end of the glaciations. An alternative hypothesis is that enough carbon dioxide escaped through volcanic outgassing that the resulting greenhouse effect raised global temperatures. Increased volcanic activity resulted from the break-up of Rodinia at about the same time.

The Cryogenian period was followed by the Ediacaran
Ediacaran
The Ediacaran Period , named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, is the last geological period of the Neoproterozoic Era and of the Proterozoic Eon, immediately preceding the Cambrian Period, the first period of the Paleozoic Era and of the Phanerozoic Eon...

 period, which was characterized by a rapid development of new multicellular lifeforms. Whether there is a connection between the end of the severe ice ages and the increase in diversity of life is not clear, but it does not seem coincidental. The new forms of life, called Ediacara biota
Ediacara biota
The Ediacara biota consisted of enigmatic tubular and frond-shaped, mostly sessile organisms which lived during the Ediacaran Period . Trace fossils of these organisms have been found worldwide, and represent the earliest known complex multicellular organisms.Simple multicellular organisms such as...

, were larger and more diverse than ever. Most scientists think some of them may have been the precursors of the new life forms of the following Cambrian
Cambrian
The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from Mya ; it is succeeded by the Ordovician. Its subdivisions, and indeed its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's...

 period. Though the taxonomy
Taxonomy
Taxonomy is the science of identifying and naming species, and arranging them into a classification. The field of taxonomy, sometimes referred to as "biological taxonomy", revolves around the description and use of taxonomic units, known as taxa...

 of most Ediacaran life forms is unclear, some are proposed to have been ancestors of groups of modern life. Important developments were the origin of muscular and neural cells. None of the Ediacaran fossils had hard body parts like skeletons. These first appear after the boundary between the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic
Phanerozoic
The Phanerozoic Eon is the current eon in the geologic timescale, and the one during which abundant animal life has existed. It covers roughly 542 million years and goes back to the time when diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared...

 eons or Ediacaran and Cambrian periods.

Phanerozoic eon



The Phanerozoic is the major eon of life on Earth. It consists of three eras: The Paleozoic
Paleozoic
The Paleozoic era is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic eon, spanning from roughly...

, Mesozoic
Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

, and Cenozoic
Cenozoic
The Cenozoic era is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras and covers the period from 65.5 mya to the present. The era began in the wake of the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous that saw the demise of the last non-avian dinosaurs and...

, and is the time when multi-cellular life greatly diversified into all of its modern forms.

Paleozoic era



The Paleozoic
Paleozoic
The Paleozoic era is the earliest of three geologic eras of the Phanerozoic eon, spanning from roughly...

 era (meaning: era of old life forms) was the first era of the Phanerozoic
Phanerozoic
The Phanerozoic Eon is the current eon in the geologic timescale, and the one during which abundant animal life has existed. It covers roughly 542 million years and goes back to the time when diverse hard-shelled animals first appeared...

 eon, lasting from 542 to 251 Ma. During the Paleozoic, many modern groups of life came into existence. Life colonized the land, first plants, then animals. Life usually evolved slowly. At times, however, there are sudden radiations of new species or mass extinctions. These bursts of evolution were often caused by unexpected changes in the environment resulting from natural disaster
Natural disaster
A natural disaster is the effect of a natural hazard . It leads to financial, environmental or human losses...

s such as volcanic activity
Volcanism
Volcanism is the phenomenon connected with volcanoes and volcanic activity. It includes all phenomena resulting from and causing magma within the crust or mantle of a planet to rise through the crust and form volcanic rocks on the surface....

, meteorite impacts or climate change
Climate change
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average...

s.

The continents formed at the break-up of Pannotia and Rodinia at the end of the Proterozoic would slowly move together again during the Paleozoic. This would eventually result in phases of mountain building that created the supercontinent Pangaea
Pangaea
Pangaea, Pangæa, or Pangea is hypothesized as a supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 250 million years ago, before the component continents were separated into their current configuration....

 in the late Paleozoic.

542 Ma: Cambrian explosion



Apparently, the rate of the evolution of life accelerated in the Cambrian
Cambrian
The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from Mya ; it is succeeded by the Ordovician. Its subdivisions, and indeed its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's...

 period (542-488 Ma). The sudden emergence of many new species, phyla
Phylum
In biology, a phylum The term was coined by Georges Cuvier from Greek φῦλον phylon, "race, stock," related to φυλή phyle, "tribe, clan." is a taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. "Phylum" is equivalent to the botanical term division....

, and forms in this period is called the Cambrian Explosion. The biological fomenting in the Cambrian Explosion was unpreceded before and since that time. Whereas the Ediacaran life forms appear yet primitive and not easy to put in any modern group, at the end of the Cambrian most modern phyla were already present. The development of hard body parts such as shells, skeleton
Skeleton
The skeleton is the body part that forms the supporting structure of an organism. There are two different skeletal types: the exoskeleton, which is the stable outer shell of an organism, and the endoskeleton, which forms the support structure inside the body.In a figurative sense, skeleton can...

s or exoskeleton
Exoskeleton
An exoskeleton is the external skeleton that supports and protects an animal's body, in contrast to the internal skeleton of, for example, a human. In popular usage, some of the larger kinds of exoskeletons are known as "shells". Examples of exoskeleton animals include insects such as grasshoppers...

s in animals like molluscs, echinoderm
Echinoderm
Echinoderms are a phylum of marine animals. Echinoderms are found at every ocean depth, from the intertidal zone to the abyssal zone....

s, crinoid
Crinoid
Crinoids are marine animals that make up the class Crinoidea of the echinoderms . Crinoidea comes from the Greek word krinon, "a lily", and eidos, "form". They live both in shallow water and in depths as great as 6,000 meters. Sea lilies refer to the crinoids which, in their adult form, are...

s and arthropod
Arthropod
An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton , a segmented body, and jointed appendages. Arthropods are members of the phylum Arthropoda , and include the insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and others...

s (a well-known group of arthropods from the lower Paleozoic are the trilobite
Trilobite
Trilobites are a well-known fossil group of extinct marine arthropods that form the class Trilobita. The first appearance of trilobites in the fossil record defines the base of the Atdabanian stage of the Early Cambrian period , and they flourished throughout the lower Paleozoic era before...

s) made the preservation and fossilisation of such life forms easier than those of their Proterozoic ancestors. For this reason, much more is known about life in and after the Cambrian than about that of older periods. The boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician
Ordovician
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago . It follows the Cambrian Period and is followed by the Silurian Period...

 (the following period, 488-444 Ma) is characterized by a large mass-extinction, in which some of the new groups disappeared altogether. Some of these Cambrian groups appear complex but are quite different from modern life; examples are Anomalocaris
Anomalocaris
Anomalocaris is an extinct genus of anomalocaridid, which are, in turn, thought to be closely related to the arthropods. The first fossils of Anomalocaris were discovered in the Ogygopsis Shale by Joseph Frederick Whiteaves, with more examples found by Charles Doolittle Walcott in the famed...

and Haikouichthys
Haikouichthys
Haikouichthys is an extinct genus of craniate believed to have lived c. 530 million years ago, during the Cambrian explosion of multicellular life...

.

During the Cambrian, the first vertebrate
Vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

 animals, among them the first fishes, had appeared. A creature that could have been the ancestor of the fishes, or was probably closely related to it, was Pikaia
Pikaia
Pikaia gracilens is an extinct animal known from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia. -Discovery:It was discovered by Charles Walcott and was first described by him in 1911. It was named after Pika Peak, a mountain in Alberta, Canada. Based on the obvious and regular segmentation...

. It had a primitive notochord
Notochord
The notochord is a flexible, rod-shaped body found in embryos of all chordates. It is composed of cells derived from the mesoderm and defines the primitive axis of the embryo. In some chordates, it persists throughout life as the main axial support of the body, while in most vertebrates it becomes...

, a structure that could have developed into a vertebral column
Vertebral column
In human anatomy, the vertebral column is a column usually consisting of 24 articulating vertebrae, and 9 fused vertebrae in the sacrum and the coccyx. It is situated in the dorsal aspect of the torso, separated by intervertebral discs...

 later. The first fishes with jaw
Jaw
The jaw is any opposable articulated structure at the entrance of the mouth, typically used for grasping and manipulating food. The term jaws is also broadly applied to the whole of the structures constituting the vault of the mouth and serving to open and close it and is part of the body plan of...

s (Gnathostomata
Gnathostomata
Gnathostomata is the group of vertebrates with jaws. The term derives from Greek γνάθος "jaw" + στόμα "mouth". Gnathostome diversity comprises roughly 60,000 species, which accounts for 99% of all living vertebrates...

) appeared during the Ordovician. The colonisation of new niche
Ecological niche
In ecology, a niche is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other; e.g. a dolphin could potentially be in another ecological niche from one that travels in a different pod if the members of these pods utilize significantly different food...

s resulted in massive body sizes. In this way, fishes with increasing sizes evolved during the early Paleozoic, such as the titanic placoderm Dunkleosteus
Dunkleosteus
Dunkleosteus is a genus of prehistoric fish, one of the largest arthrodire placoderms ever to have lived, existing during the Late Devonian period, about 380-360 million years ago.This hunter, measuring up to and weighing , was a hypercarnivorous apex predator...

, which could grow 7 meters long.

Paleozoic tectonics, paleogeography and climate


At the end of the Proterozoic, the supercontinent Pannotia
Pannotia
Pannotia, first described by Ian W. D. Dalziel in 1997, is a hypothetical supercontinent that existed from the Pan-African orogeny about six hundred million years ago to the end of the Precambrian about five hundred and fifty million years ago. It is also known as the Vendian supercontinent...

 had broken apart in the smaller continents Laurentia
Laurentia
Laurentia is a large area of continental craton, which forms the ancient geological core of the North American continent...

, Baltica
Baltica
Baltica is a name applied by geologists to a late-Proterozoic, early-Palaeozoic continent that now includes the East European craton of northwestern Eurasia. Baltica was created as an entity not earlier than 1.8 billion years ago. Before this time, the three segments/continents that now comprise...

, Siberia
Siberia (continent)
Siberia is the craton located in the heart of the region of Siberia. Siberia or "Angaraland" is today the Central Siberian Plateau...

 and Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

. During periods when continents move apart, more oceanic crust
Oceanic crust
Oceanic crust is the part of Earth's lithosphere that surfaces in the ocean basins. Oceanic crust is primarily composed of mafic rocks, or sima, which is rich in iron and magnesium...

 is formed by volcanic activity. Because young volcanic crust is relatively hotter and less dense than old oceanic crust, the ocean floors will rise during such periods. This causes the sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

 to rise. Therefore, in the first half of the Paleozoic, large areas of the continents were below sea level.

Early Paleozoic climates were warmer than today, but the end of the Ordovician saw a short ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

 during which glaciers covered the south pole, where the huge continent Gondwana was situated. Traces of glaciation from this period are only found on former Gondwana. During the Late Ordovician ice age, a number of mass extinctions took place, in which many brachiopod
Brachiopod
Brachiopods are a phylum of marine animals that have hard "valves" on the upper and lower surfaces, unlike the left and right arrangement in bivalve molluscs. Brachiopod valves are hinged at the rear end, while the front can be opened for feeding or closed for protection...

s, trilobites, Bryozoa
Bryozoa
The Bryozoa, also known as Ectoprocta or commonly as moss animals, are a phylum of aquatic invertebrate animals. Typically about long, they are filter feeders that sieve food particles out of the water using a retractable lophophore, a "crown" of tentacles lined with cilia...

 and coral
Coral
Corals are marine animals in class Anthozoa of phylum Cnidaria typically living in compact colonies of many identical individual "polyps". The group includes the important reef builders that inhabit tropical oceans and secrete calcium carbonate to form a hard skeleton.A coral "head" is a colony of...

s disappeared. These marine species could probably not contend with the decreasing temperature of the sea water. After the extinctions new species evolved, more diverse and better adapted. They would fill the niches left by the extinct species.

The continents Laurentia and Baltica collided
Continental collision
Continental collision is a phenomenon of the plate tectonics of Earth that occurs at convergent boundaries. Continental collision is a variation on the fundamental process of subduction, whereby the subduction zone is destroyed, mountains produced, and two continents sutured together...

 between 450 and 400 Ma, during the Caledonian Orogeny
Caledonian orogeny
The Caledonian orogeny is a mountain building era recorded in the northern parts of the British Isles, the Scandinavian Mountains, Svalbard, eastern Greenland and parts of north-central Europe. The Caledonian orogeny encompasses events that occurred from the Ordovician to Early Devonian, roughly...

, to form Laurussia. Traces of the mountain belt which resulted from this collision can be found in Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and the northern Appalachians. In the Devonian
Devonian
The Devonian is a geologic period and system of the Paleozoic Era spanning from the end of the Silurian Period, about 416.0 ± 2.8 Mya , to the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya...

 period (416-359 Ma) Gondwana and Siberia began to move towards Laurussia. The collision of Siberia with Laurussia caused the Uralian Orogeny
Uralian orogeny
The Uralian orogeny refers to the long series of mountain building events that raised the Ural Mountains, starting in the Late Carboniferous and Permian periods of the Palaeozoic Era, ca. 318-299 and 299-251 Mya, and ending with the last series of continental collisions in Triassic to early...

, the collision of Gondwana with Laurussia is called the Variscan or Hercynian Orogeny
Variscan orogeny
The Variscan orogeny is a geologic mountain-building event caused by Late Paleozoic continental collision between Euramerica and Gondwana to form the supercontinent of Pangaea.-Naming:...

 in Europe or the Alleghenian Orogeny
Alleghenian orogeny
The Alleghenian orogeny or Appalachian orogeny is one of the geological mountain-forming events that formed the Appalachian Mountains and Allegheny Mountains. The term and spelling Alleghany orogeny was originally proposed by H.P. Woodward in 1957....

 in North America. The latter phase took place during the Carboniferous
Carboniferous
The Carboniferous is a geologic period and system that extends from the end of the Devonian Period, about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya , to the beginning of the Permian Period, about 299.0 ± 0.8 Mya . The name is derived from the Latin word for coal, carbo. Carboniferous means "coal-bearing"...

 period (359-299 Ma) and resulted in the formation of the last supercontinent, Pangaea.

Colonization of land


Oxygen accumulation from photosynthesis resulted in the formation of an ozone layer that absorbed much of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, meaning unicellular organisms that reached land were less likely to die, and prokaryotes began to multiply and become better adapted to survival out of the water. A variety of prokaryote
Prokaryote
The prokaryotes are a group of organisms that lack a cell nucleus , or any other membrane-bound organelles. The organisms that have a cell nucleus are called eukaryotes. Most prokaryotes are unicellular, but a few such as myxobacteria have multicellular stages in their life cycles...

 lineages had probably colonized the land as early as 2.6 Ga even before the origin of the eukaryotes. For a long time, the land remained barren of multicellular organisms. The supercontinent Pannotia
Pannotia
Pannotia, first described by Ian W. D. Dalziel in 1997, is a hypothetical supercontinent that existed from the Pan-African orogeny about six hundred million years ago to the end of the Precambrian about five hundred and fifty million years ago. It is also known as the Vendian supercontinent...

 formed around 600 Ma and then broke apart a short 50 million years later. Fish, the earliest vertebrates
Prehistoric fish
Prehistoric fish refers to early fish that are known only from fossil records. They are the earliest known vertebrates, and include the first and extinct fish that lived through the Cambrian to the Tertiary. The study of prehistoric fish is called paleoichthyology...

, evolved in the oceans around 530 Ma. A major extinction event occurred near the end of the Cambrian period, which ended 488 Ma.

Several hundred million years ago, plants (probably resembling algae
Algae
Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelps that grow to 65 meters in length. They are photosynthetic like plants, and "simple" because their tissues are not organized into the many...

) and fungi started growing at the edges of the water, and then out of it. The oldest fossils of land fungi and plants date to 480–460 Ma, though molecular evidence suggests the fungi may have colonized the land as early as 1000 Ma and the plants 700 Ma. Initially remaining close to the water’s edge, mutations and variations resulted in further colonization of this new environment. The timing of the first animals to leave the oceans is not precisely known: the oldest clear evidence is of arthropod
Arthropod
An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton , a segmented body, and jointed appendages. Arthropods are members of the phylum Arthropoda , and include the insects, arachnids, crustaceans, and others...

s on land around 450 Ma, perhaps thriving and becoming better adapted due to the vast food source provided by the terrestrial plants. There is also some unconfirmed evidence that arthropods may have appeared on land as early as 530 Ma.

At the end of the Ordovician
Ordovician
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago . It follows the Cambrian Period and is followed by the Silurian Period...

 period, 440 Ma, additional extinction events occurred, perhaps due to a concurrent ice age
Ice age
An ice age or, more precisely, glacial age, is a generic geological period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers...

. Around 380 to 375 Ma, the first tetrapod
Tetrapod
Tetrapods are vertebrate animals having four limbs. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are all tetrapods; even snakes and other limbless reptiles and amphibians are tetrapods by descent. The earliest tetrapods evolved from the lobe-finned fishes in the Devonian...

s evolved from fish. It is thought that perhaps fins evolved to become limbs which allowed the first tetrapods to lift their heads out of the water to breathe air. This would allow them to live in oxygen-poor water or pursue small prey in shallow water. They may have later ventured on land for brief periods. Eventually, some of them became so well adapted to terrestrial life that they spent their adult lives on land, although they hatched in the water and returned to lay their eggs. This was the origin of the amphibian
Amphibian
Amphibians , are a class of vertebrate animals including animals such as toads, frogs, caecilians, and salamanders. They are characterized as non-amniote ectothermic tetrapods...

s. About 365 Ma, another period of extinction
Late Devonian extinction
The Late Devonian extinction was one of five major extinction events in the history of the Earth's biota. A major extinction, the Kellwasser Event, occurred at the boundary that marks the beginning of the last phase of the Devonian period, the Famennian faunal stage, , about 374 million years ago...

 occurred, perhaps as a result of global cooling
Global cooling
Global cooling was a conjecture during the 1970s of imminent cooling of the Earth's surface and atmosphere along with a posited commencement of glaciation...

. Plants evolved seed
Seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

s, which dramatically accelerated their spread on land, around this time (by approximately 360 Ma).

Some 20 million years later (340 Ma), the amniotic egg evolved, which could be laid on land, giving a survival advantage to tetrapod
Tetrapod
Tetrapods are vertebrate animals having four limbs. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are all tetrapods; even snakes and other limbless reptiles and amphibians are tetrapods by descent. The earliest tetrapods evolved from the lobe-finned fishes in the Devonian...

 embryos. This resulted in the divergence of amniote
Amniote
The amniotes are a group of tetrapods that have a terrestrially adapted egg. They include synapsids and sauropsids , as well as their fossil ancestors. Amniote embryos, whether laid as eggs or carried by the female, are protected and aided by several extensive membranes...

s from amphibians. Another 30 million years (310 Ma) saw the divergence of the synapsid
Synapsid
Synapsids are a group of animals that includes mammals and everything more closely related to mammals than to other living amniotes. They are easily separated from other amniotes by having an opening low in the skull roof behind each eye, leaving a bony arch beneath each, accounting for their name...

s (including mammals) from the sauropsids (including birds and reptiles). Other groups of organisms continued to evolve, and lines diverged—in fish, insects, bacteria, and so on—but less is known of the details. The most recent hypothesized supercontinent, called Pangaea
Pangaea
Pangaea, Pangæa, or Pangea is hypothesized as a supercontinent that existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras about 250 million years ago, before the component continents were separated into their current configuration....

, formed 300 Ma.

Mesozoic era




The most severe extinction event to date took place 250 Ma, at the boundary of the Permian
Permian
The PermianThe term "Permian" was introduced into geology in 1841 by Sir Sir R. I. Murchison, president of the Geological Society of London, who identified typical strata in extensive Russian explorations undertaken with Edouard de Verneuil; Murchison asserted in 1841 that he named his "Permian...

 and Triassic
Triassic
The Triassic is a geologic period and system that extends from about 250 to 200 Mya . As the first period of the Mesozoic Era, the Triassic follows the Permian and is followed by the Jurassic. Both the start and end of the Triassic are marked by major extinction events...

 periods; 95% of life on Earth died out and started the Mesozoic era (meaning "middle life") that spanned 187 million years. This extinction event was possibly caused by the Siberian Traps
Siberian Traps
The Siberian Traps form a large region of volcanic rock, known as a large igneous province, in the Russian region of Siberia. The massive eruptive event which formed the traps, one of the largest known volcanic events of the last 500 million years of Earth's geological history, continued for...

 volcanic event, an asteroid impact, methane hydrate gasification, sea level fluctuations, a major anoxic event
Anoxic event
Oceanic anoxic events or anoxic events occur when the Earth's oceans become completely depleted of oxygen below the surface levels. Although anoxic events have not happened for millions of years, the geological record shows that they happened many times in the past. Anoxic events may have caused...

, other events, or some combination of these events. Either the proposed Wilkes Land crater
Wilkes Land crater
Wilkes Land crater is an informal term that may apply to two separate cases of conjectured giant impact craters hidden beneath the ice cap of Wilkes Land, East Antarctica...

in Antarctica or Bedout structure
Bedout
Bedout , or more specifically the Bedout High, is a geological and geophysical feature centered about 250 km off the northwestern coast of Australia in the Canning and overlying Roebuck basins. Although not obvious from sea floor topography, it is a roughly circular area about 30 km in...

 off the northwest coast of Australia may indicate an impact connection with the Permian-Triassic extinction. But it remains uncertain whether either these or other proposed Permian-Triassic boundary craters are either real impact craters or even contemporaneous with the Permian-Triassic extinction event. Life persevered, and around 230 Ma, dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s split off from their reptilian ancestors. An extinction event between the Triassic and Jurassic periods 200 Ma spared many of the dinosaurs, and they soon became dominant among the vertebrates. Though some of the mammalian lines began to separate during this period, existing mammals were probably all small animals resembling shrew
Shrew
A shrew or shrew mouse is a small molelike mammal classified in the order Soricomorpha. True shrews are also not to be confused with West Indies shrews, treeshrews, otter shrews, or elephant shrews, which belong to different families or orders.Although its external appearance is generally that of...

s.

By 180 Ma, Pangaea broke up into Laurasia
Laurasia
In paleogeography, Laurasia was the northernmost of two supercontinents that formed part of the Pangaea supercontinent from approximately...

 and Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

. The boundary between avian and non-avian dinosaurs is not clear, but Archaeopteryx
Archaeopteryx
Archaeopteryx , sometimes referred to by its German name Urvogel , is a genus of theropod dinosaur that is closely related to birds. The name derives from the Ancient Greek meaning "ancient", and , meaning "feather" or "wing"...

, traditionally considered one of the first birds, lived around 150 Ma. The earliest evidence for the angiosperms
Flowering plant
The flowering plants , also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants. Angiosperms are seed-producing plants like the gymnosperms and can be distinguished from the gymnosperms by a series of synapomorphies...

 evolving flowers is during the Cretaceous
Cretaceous
The Cretaceous , derived from the Latin "creta" , usually abbreviated K for its German translation Kreide , is a geologic period and system from circa to million years ago. In the geologic timescale, the Cretaceous follows the Jurassic period and is followed by the Paleogene period of the...

 period, some 20 million years later (132 Ma). Competition with birds drove many pterosaur
Pterosaur
Pterosaurs were flying reptiles of the clade or order Pterosauria. They existed from the late Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period . Pterosaurs are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight...

s to extinction and the dinosaurs were probably already in decline when, 65 Ma, a 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) meteorite probably struck Earth just off the Yucatán Peninsula
Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel...

 where the Chicxulub crater
Chicxulub Crater
The Chicxulub crater is an ancient impact crater buried underneath the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Its center is located near the town of Chicxulub, after which the crater is named...

 is today. This ejected vast quantities of particulate matter and vapor into the air that occluded sunlight, inhibiting photosynthesis. Most large animals, including the non-avian dinosaurs, became extinct, marking the end of the Cretaceous period and Mesozoic
Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

 era. Thereafter, in the Paleocene
Paleocene
The Paleocene or Palaeocene, the "early recent", is a geologic epoch that lasted from about . It is the first epoch of the Palaeogene Period in the modern Cenozoic Era...

 epoch, mammals rapidly diversified, grew larger, and became the dominant vertebrates. Perhaps a couple of million years later (around 63 Ma), the last common ancestor of primate
Primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

s lived. By the late Eocene
Eocene
The Eocene Epoch, lasting from about 56 to 34 million years ago , is a major division of the geologic timescale and the second epoch of the Paleogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Eocene spans the time from the end of the Palaeocene Epoch to the beginning of the Oligocene Epoch. The start of the...

 epoch, 34 Ma, some terrestrial mammals had returned to the oceans to become animals such as Basilosaurus
Basilosaurus
Basilosaurus is a genus of cetacean that lived from in the Late Eocene. Its fossilized remains were first discovered in the southern United States . The American fossils were initially believed to be some sort of reptile, hence the suffix -"saurus", but later found to be a marine mammal...

which eventually led to dolphin
Dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

s and baleen whale
Baleen whale
The Baleen whales, also called whalebone whales or great whales, form the Mysticeti, one of two suborders of the Cetacea . Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth. This distinguishes them from the other suborder of cetaceans,...

s.

Cenozoic era (Recent life)



The Cenozoic era began in the wake of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which killed off the dinosaur
Dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s and many other forms of marine and terrestrial life. The mammals, however, survived, and this is the era in which they diversified into their modern forms.

2 Ma: Human evolution



A small African ape living around 6 Ma was the last animal whose descendants would include both modern humans and their closest relatives, the bonobo
Bonobo
The bonobo , Pan paniscus, previously called the pygmy chimpanzee and less often, the dwarf or gracile chimpanzee, is a great ape and one of the two species making up the genus Pan. The other species in genus Pan is Pan troglodytes, or the common chimpanzee...

 and chimpanzees. Only two branches of its family tree have surviving descendants. Very soon after the split, for reasons that are still debated, apes in one branch developed the ability to walk upright. Brain
Brain
The brain is the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals—only a few primitive invertebrates such as sponges, jellyfish, sea squirts and starfishes do not have one. It is located in the head, usually close to primary sensory apparatus such as vision, hearing,...

 size increased rapidly, and by 2 Ma, the first animals classified in the genus Homo
Homo (genus)
Homo is the genus that includes modern humans and species closely related to them. The genus is estimated to be about 2.3 to 2.4 million years old, evolving from australopithecine ancestors with the appearance of Homo habilis....

had appeared. Of course, the line between different species or even genera is somewhat arbitrary as organisms continuously change over generations. Around the same time, the other branch split into the ancestors of the common chimpanzee
Common Chimpanzee
The common chimpanzee , also known as the robust chimpanzee, is a great ape. Colloquially, the common chimpanzee is often called the chimpanzee , though technically this term refers to both species in the genus Pan: the common chimpanzee and the closely related bonobo, formerly called the pygmy...

 and the ancestors of the bonobo
Bonobo
The bonobo , Pan paniscus, previously called the pygmy chimpanzee and less often, the dwarf or gracile chimpanzee, is a great ape and one of the two species making up the genus Pan. The other species in genus Pan is Pan troglodytes, or the common chimpanzee...

 as evolution continued simultaneously in all life forms.

The ability to control fire
Fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

 probably began in Homo erectus
Homo erectus
Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominid that lived from the end of the Pliocene epoch to the later Pleistocene, about . The species originated in Africa and spread as far as India, China and Java. There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

(or Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster
Homo ergaster is an extinct chronospecies of Homo that lived in eastern and southern Africa during the early Pleistocene, about 2.5–1.7 million years ago.There is still disagreement on the subject of the classification, ancestry, and progeny of H...

), probably at least 790,000 years ago but perhaps as early as 1.5 Ma. In addition, it has sometimes suggested that the use and discovery of controlled fire may even predate Homo erectus. Fire was possibly used by the early Lower Paleolithic
Lower Paleolithic
The Lower Paleolithic is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 2.5 million years ago when the first evidence of craft and use of stone tools by hominids appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago, spanning the...

 (Oldowan) hominid Homo habilis or strong australopithecines such as Paranthropus
Paranthropus
The robust australopithecines, members of the extinct hominin genus Paranthropus , were bipedal hominids that probably descended from the gracile australopithecine hominids...

.


It is more difficult to establish the origin of language
Origin of language
The origin of language is the emergence of language in the human species. This is a highly controversial topic. Empirical evidence is so limited that many regard it as unsuitable for serious scholars. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris went so far as to ban debates on the subject...

; it is unclear whether Homo erectus could speak or if that capability had not begun until Homo sapiens. As brain size increased, babies were born earlier, before their heads grew too large to pass through the pelvis
Pelvis
In human anatomy, the pelvis is the lower part of the trunk, between the abdomen and the lower limbs .The pelvis includes several structures:...

. As a result, they exhibited more plasticity
Neuroplasticity
Neuroplasticity is a non-specific neuroscience term referring to the ability of the brain and nervous system in all species to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment. Plasticity occurs on a variety of levels, ranging from cellular changes involved in...

, and thus possessed an increased capacity to learn and required a longer period of dependence. Social skills became more complex, language became more sophisticated, and tools became more elaborate. This contributed to further cooperation and intellectual development. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) are believed to have originated somewhere around 200,000 years ago or earlier in Africa; the oldest fossils date back to around 160,000 years ago.

The first humans to show signs of spirituality
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

 are the Neanderthal
Neanderthal
The Neanderthal is an extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens found in Europe and parts of western and central Asia...

s (usually classified as a separate species with no surviving descendants); they buried their dead, often apparently with food or tools. However, evidence of more sophisticated beliefs, such as the early Cro-Magnon
Cro-Magnon
The Cro-Magnon were the first early modern humans of the European Upper Paleolithic. The earliest known remains of Cro-Magnon-like humans are radiometrically dated to 35,000 years before present....

 cave painting
Cave painting
Cave paintings are paintings on cave walls and ceilings, and the term is used especially for those dating to prehistoric times. The earliest European cave paintings date to the Aurignacian, some 32,000 years ago. The purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known...

s (probably with magical or religious significance) did not appear until some 32,000 years ago. Cro-Magnons also left behind stone figurines such as Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf
The Venus of Willendorf, also known as the Woman of Willendorf, is an high statuette of a female figure estimated to have been made between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria near the...

, probably also signifying religious belief. By 11,000 years ago, Homo sapiens had reached the southern tip of South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

, the last of the uninhabited continents (except for Antarctica, which remained undiscovered until 1820 AD). Tool use and communication continued to improve, and interpersonal relationships became more intricate.

10,000 ya: Civilization


Throughout more than 90% of its history, Homo sapiens lived in small bands as nomadic hunter-gatherer
Hunter-gatherer
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

s. As language became more complex, the ability to remember and communicate information resulted in a new replicator: the meme
Meme
A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture."A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena...

. Ideas could be exchanged quickly and passed down the generations.

Cultural evolution quickly outpaced biological evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

, and history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 proper began. Somewhere between 8500 and 7000 BC, humans in the Fertile Crescent
Fertile Crescent
The Fertile Crescent, nicknamed "The Cradle of Civilization" for the fact the first civilizations started there, is a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid Western Asia. The term was first used by University of Chicago...

 in Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 began the systematic husbandry of plants and animals: agriculture
Agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

. This spread to neighboring regions, and developed independently elsewhere, until most Homo sapiens lived sedentary lives in permanent settlements as farmers.

Not all societies abandoned nomadism, especially those in isolated areas of the globe poor in domesticable
Domestication
Domestication or taming is the process whereby a population of animals or plants, through a process of selection, becomes accustomed to human provision and control. In the Convention on Biological Diversity a domesticated species is defined as a 'species in which the evolutionary process has been...

 plant species, such as Australia. However, among those civilizations that did adopt agriculture, the relative stability and increased productivity provided by farming allowed the population to expand.

Agriculture had a major impact; humans began to affect the environment as never before. Surplus food allowed a priestly or governing class to arise, followed by increasing division of labor
Division of labour
Division of labour is the specialisation of cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and likeroles. Historically an increasingly complex division of labour is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialisation...

. This led to Earth’s first civilization
Civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

 at Sumer
Sumer
Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

 in the Middle East, between 4000 and 3000 BC. Additional civilizations quickly arose in ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, at the Indus River valley
Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of what is now mainly modern-day Pakistan and northwest India...

 and in China.

The invention of writing
Writing
Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols . It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and non-symbolic preservation of language via non-textual media, such as magnetic tape audio.Writing most likely...

 enabled complex societies to arise: record-keeping and libraries
Library
In a traditional sense, a library is a large collection of books, and can refer to the place in which the collection is housed. Today, the term can refer to any collection, including digital sources, resources, and services...

 served as a storehouse of knowledge and increased the cultural transmission of information. Humans no longer had to spend all their time working for survival—curiosity and education drove the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

Various disciplines, including science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 (in a primitive form), arose. New civilizations sprang up, traded with one another, and fought for territory and resources. Empire
Empire
The term empire derives from the Latin imperium . Politically, an empire is a geographically extensive group of states and peoples united and ruled either by a monarch or an oligarchy....

s soon began to develop. By around 500 BC, there were empires in the Middle East, Iran, India, China, and Greece, on nearly equal footing; at times one empire expanded, only to decline or be driven back later.

The fundamentals of the Western world
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 were largely shaped by the ancient Greco-Roman culture. The Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 was Christianized by Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century and declined
Decline of the Roman Empire
The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

 by the end of the fifth. Beginning with the seventh century, Christianization of Europe begin. In 1054 CE the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 lead to the prominent cultural differences between Western
Western Europe
Western Europe is a loose term for the collection of countries in the western most region of the European continents, though this definition is context-dependent and carries cultural and political connotations. One definition describes Western Europe as a geographic entity—the region lying in the...

 and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

.

In the fourteenth century, the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 began in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 with advances in religion, art, and science. At that time the Christian Church as a political entity lost much of its power. European civilization began to change beginning in 1500, leading to the scientific
Scientific revolution
The Scientific Revolution is an era associated primarily with the 16th and 17th centuries during which new ideas and knowledge in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry transformed medieval and ancient views of nature and laid the foundations for modern science...

 and industrial
Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and technology had a profound effect on the social, economic and cultural conditions of the times...

 revolutions. That continent began to exert political and cultural dominance
Hegemony
Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

 over human societies around the planet, a time known as the Colonial era
History of colonialism
The historical phenomenon of colonisation is one that stretches around the globe and across time, including such disparate peoples as the Hittites, the Incas and the British. European colonialism, or imperialism, began in the 15th century with the "Age of Discovery", led by Portuguese and Spanish...

 (also see Age of Discovery
Age of Discovery
The Age of Discovery, also known as the Age of Exploration and the Great Navigations , was a period in history starting in the early 15th century and continuing into the early 17th century during which Europeans engaged in intensive exploration of the world, establishing direct contacts with...

). In the eigteenth century a cultural movement known as the Age of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 further shaped the mentaity of Europe and contributed to its secularization
Secularization
Secularization is the transformation of a society from close identification with religious values and institutions toward non-religious values and secular institutions...

. From 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945, nations around the world were embroiled in world war
World war
A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters....

s.

Established following World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...

 was a first step in establishing international institutions to settle disputes peacefully. After failing to prevent World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, it was replaced by the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

. In 1992, several European nations joined in the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

. As transportation and communication improved, the economies and political affairs of nations around the world have become increasingly intertwined. This globalization
Globalization
Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

 has often produced both conflict and collaboration.

75 ya: Recent events


Change has continued at a rapid pace from the mid-1940s to today. Technological developments include nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s, computer
Computer
A computer is a programmable machine designed to sequentially and automatically carry out a sequence of arithmetic or logical operations. The particular sequence of operations can be changed readily, allowing the computer to solve more than one kind of problem...

s, genetic engineering
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

, and nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

. Economic globalization spurred by advances in communication and transportation technology has influenced everyday life in many parts of the world. Cultural and institutional forms such as democracy
Democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

, capitalism
Capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

, and environmentalism
Environmentalism
Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements...

 have increased influence. Major concerns and problems such as disease
Disease
A disease is an abnormal condition affecting the body of an organism. It is often construed to be a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by external factors, such as infectious disease, or it may be caused by internal dysfunctions, such as autoimmune...

, war
War
War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality. War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political...

, poverty
Poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

, violent radicalism
Political radicalism
The term political radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways...

, and recently, human-caused climate change
Global warming
Global warming refers to the rising average temperature of Earth's atmosphere and oceans and its projected continuation. In the last 100 years, Earth's average surface temperature increased by about with about two thirds of the increase occurring over just the last three decades...

 have risen as the world population increases.

In 1957, the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 launched the first artificial satellite
Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1 ) was the first artificial satellite to be put into Earth's orbit. It was launched into an elliptical low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1s success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the Space...

 into orbit and, soon afterward, Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961....

 became the first human in space. Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong
Neil Alden Armstrong is an American former astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor, United States Naval Aviator, and the first person to set foot upon the Moon....

, an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, was the first to set foot on another astronomical object, the Moon. Unmanned probes have been sent to all the known planets in the solar system, with some (such as Voyager
Voyager program
The Voyager program is a U.S program that launched two unmanned space missions, scientific probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable planetary alignment of the late 1970s...

) having left the solar system. The Soviet Union and the United States were the earliest leaders in space exploration in the 20th century. Five space agencies, representing over fifteen countries, have worked together to build the International Space Station
International Space Station
The International Space Station is a habitable, artificial satellite in low Earth orbit. The ISS follows the Salyut, Almaz, Cosmos, Skylab, and Mir space stations, as the 11th space station launched, not including the Genesis I and II prototypes...

. Aboard it, there has been a continuous human presence in space since 2000.

See also


  • Geological history of Earth
    Geological history of Earth
    The geological history of Earth follows the major events in Earth's past based on the geologic time scale, a system of chronological measurement based on the study of the planet's rock layers...

  • Geologic time scale
    Geologic time scale
    The geologic time scale provides a system of chronologic measurement relating stratigraphy to time that is used by geologists, paleontologists and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the history of the Earth...

  • Evolutionary history of life
    Evolutionary history of life
    The evolutionary history of life on Earth traces the processes by which living and fossil organisms have evolved since life on Earth first originated until the present day. Earth formed about 4.5 Ga and life appeared on its surface within one billion years...

  • Timeline of evolution
    Timeline of evolution
    This timeline of evolution of life outlines the major events in the development of life on planet Earth since it first originated until the present day. In biology, evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations...

  • Timeline of natural history
    Timeline of natural history
    This timeline of natural history summarizes significant cosmological, geological and biological events from the formation of the Universe to the beginning of the Stone Age.-Formation of the Universe:...

  • Timeline of the Big Bang
    Timeline of the Big Bang
    This timeline of the Big Bang describes the history of the universe according to the prevailing scientific theory of how the universe came into being, using the cosmological time parameter of comoving coordinates...

  • Formation and evolution of the Solar System
    Formation and evolution of the Solar System
    The formation and evolution of the Solar System is estimated to have begun 4.568 billion years ago with the gravitational collapse of a small part of a giant molecular cloud...

  • Detailed logarithmic timeline
    Detailed logarithmic timeline
    This timeline allows one to see the whole history of the universe, the Earth, and mankind in one table.Each row is defined in years ago, that is, years before the present date, with the earliest times at the top of the chart...

  • History of the world
    History of the world
    The history of the world or human history is the history of humanity from the earliest times to the present, in all places on Earth, beginning with the Paleolithic Era. It excludes non-human natural history and geological history, except insofar as the natural world substantially affects human lives...

  • End of civilization
    Risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth
    Various existential risks could threaten humankind as a whole, have adverse consequences for the course of human civilization, or even cause the end of planet Earth.-Types of risks:...

  • Future of the Earth
    Future of the Earth
    The biological and geological future of the Earth can be extrapolated based upon the estimated effects of several long-term influences. These include the chemistry at the Earth's surface, the rate of cooling of the planet's interior, the gravitational interactions with other objects in the Solar...


Literature

; 1990: Terrestrial effects of the Giant Impact, LPI Conference on the Origin of the Earth, p. 61-67.; 2003: Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, Blackwell Publishing (2nd ed.), ISBN 978-1-4051-0588-0.; 2001: Origin of the Moon in a giant impact near the end of the Earth's formation, Nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 412, p. 708-712.; 1995: Earth before Pangea, Scientific American 272(1), p. 58-63; 2006: The Origin of the Earth; What's New?, Elements 2(4), p. 205-210.; 1998: A Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth, Science
Science (journal)
Science is the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is one of the world's top scientific journals....

 281(5381), pp 1342–1346.; 1997: Lunar accretion from an impact-generated disk, Nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 389, p. 353-357., 2005: Hf-W Chronometry of Lunar Metals and the Age and Early Differentiation of the Moon, Science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 310, pp. 1671–1674.; 1987: The Earth through time, Saunders College Publishing (3rd ed.), ISBN 0-03-008912-3.; 1992: Chemical composition of the Earth after the giant impact, Earth, Moon, and Planets 57(2), p. 85-97., 1999: Earth: evolution of a habitable world, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, ISBN 0521644232.; 1993: Impacts and the early environment and evolution of the terrestrial planets, in (red.): Protostars and Planets III, University of Arizona
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona is a land-grant and space-grant public institution of higher education and research located in Tucson, Arizona, United States. The University of Arizona was the first university in the state of Arizona, founded in 1885...

 Press, Tucson
Tucson, Arizona
Tucson is a city in and the county seat of Pima County, Arizona, United States. The city is located 118 miles southeast of Phoenix and 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. The 2010 United States Census puts the city's population at 520,116 with a metropolitan area population at 1,020,200...

, pp. 1339–1370.; 2000: Source regions and time scales for the delivery of water to Earth, Meteoritics & Planetary Science 35(6), p. 1309–1320.; 1989: Geochemical implications of the formation of the Moon by a single giant impact, Nature
Nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

 338, p. 29-34.; 1998: Age of the world's oldest rocks refined using Canada's SHRIMP: The Acasta Gneiss Complex, Northwest Territories, Canada, Geoscience Canada 25, pp 27–31.; 2003: The Rodinia Jigsaw Puzzle, Science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 300, pp. 1379–1381.; 1991: Occurrence of Earth-Like Bodies in Planetary Systems, Science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 253(5019), pp. 535–538.; 2009: On the eve of animal radiation: phylogeny, ecology and evolution of the Ediacara biota, Trends in Ecology and Evolution 24, pp 31–40.

External links

  • Cosmic Evolution – a detailed look at events from the origin of the universe to the present
  • Valley, John W. “A Cool Early Earth?Scientific American
    Scientific American
    Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

    . 2005 October 58–65. – discusses the timing of the formation of the oceans and other major events in Earth’s early history.
  • Davies, Paul
    Paul Davies
    Paul Charles William Davies, AM is an English physicist, writer and broadcaster, currently a professor at Arizona State University as well as the Director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science...

    . “Quantum leap of life”. The Guardian
    The Guardian
    The Guardian, formerly known as The Manchester Guardian , is a British national daily newspaper in the Berliner format...

    . 2005 December 20. – discusses speculation into the role of quantum systems in the origin of life
  • Evolution timeline (uses Shockwave). Animated story of life since about 13,700,000,000 shows everything from the big bang to the formation of the earth and the development of bacteria and other organisms to the ascent of man.
  • Scientific American Magazine (October 2005 Issue) A Cool Early Earth?
  • Artist's Conception of Cold Early Earth