The Story of Humanity

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The Story of Our Universe Began 13.8 Billion Years Ago. The Story of Modern Humans Began about 200,000 Years Ago.

By Ryan Allis

“The story really began 14 billion years ago with a tiny universe where everything was all in one place. Then the Big Bang–all the energy that has ever existed created in an instant. Gravity sculpted our universe. For billions of years stars and supernovas created all the elements we would eventually need. Then, an extreme Earth took shape and settled into just the right conditions to support life. As the planet evolved, life competed for energy and grew more and more complex.”

The History of the World in Two Hours, The History Channel

Entrepreneurs must understand the past to be able to create the future. So, let’s start at the very beginning.

Scientists estimate beginning of our universe by measuring its rate of expansion, called the Hubble Constant, and extrapolating backwards to the time when the universe would have had zero size. By this measure, it has taken the universe about 13.8 billion years to get to where we are today.

In 2001, to obtain a more accurate estimate of the age of the universe, the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a specialized probe into space called the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), which estimated the age of the universe to be about 13.77 billion years. In 2009, the European Space Agency launched a new probe called Planck which, in 2013, more accurately estimated the age of the universe at 13.798 billion years.

A Pictorial Description of the Expanding Universe

A Pictorial Description of the Expanding Universe. Source: The Universe Adventure

The force of gravity began attracting matter together. The more mass that combined in one place, the heavier the gravitational pull became, forming initial clouds of gas and dust and causing pressure and heat to rise. With extremely high temperatures, hydrogen atoms fused together into helium, which led to the formation of the first stars—massive spheres of plasma that converted hydrogen into helium and radiated energy into space.

To form planets, however, the universe needed more elements than hydrogen and helium. The next elements to be created (lithium, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, iron) came from the merging heat of stars—enabling early solid planets to form. The subsequent supernova explosions of stars at the end of their lives created additional elements like uranium, copper, zinc, and gold. The elements of the periodic table had formed.

Our Planet

4.6 billion years ago (8.2 billion years after the universe began) the star at the center of our solar system was born. We call that star the Sun and the third planet out from the Sun, we call the Earth.

The Earth formed just over 4.5 billion years ago as a planet filled with molten lava. Eventually, the heavier materials became the iron-nickel core that created the Earth’s magnetic field, protecting our planet from the sun’s charged particles, setting up a key condition for life to form.

The early Earth had no moon. 4.5 billion years ago an object the size of Mars crashed into earth at 25,000 miles per hour. The collision caused part of the planet to break off and form the moon. The collision that formed the moon tilted the planet, giving it seasons. The moon also slowed our rotation, increasing the number of hours in a day from six to twenty-four.

By 3.8 billion years ago, the oceans had formed and the planet had cooled. Hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen combined to form the key substances for life. The first life forms soon emerged in our oceans in the form of single-celled bacteria or prokaryotes, which figured out how to consume the sun’s energy to live and emitted oxygen as their waste product.

As oxygen permeated our atmosphere, some bacterial life forms learned to live on oxygen—which was more efficient for obtaining energy than direct photosynthesis—enabling the evolution of more complex life forms.

500 million years ago, oxygen levels became high enough for more complex vertebrate animals like fish to evolve during the period known as the Cambrian explosion. With oxygen, came an ozone layer, protecting us from radiation. Around 400 million years ago, animals began living on land—first amphibians, then reptiles with water-filled eggs, and then mammals.

Dinosaurs became the most advanced species on the planet for 160 million years until a six-mile-wide object hit the planet, causing a dust cloud which blocked out the sun, reduced temperatures, and led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, allowing for the evolution of more complex primates and humans.

At this time, the continents were connected together in one land mass called Pangea. They began shifting apart about 200 million years ago, forming the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, and Oceania and separating into two major landmasses—only briefly connected by the Bering Strait during the ice ages.

The Human Species

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. – Albert Einstein, February 12, 1950

Primates diverged around 85 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous period. Seven million years ago primates who could walk upright evolved in the grasslands of Eastern Africa. As the planet cooled during this period, the former jungles of Africa turned into grasslands. Suddenly the ability to move between trees on two legs, keeping a head high to watch for predators, became a necessity. Walking upright created a natural advantage for these new primates and hands were freed up for new tasks.

Around 5.4 million years ago, the Hominini tribe of bipedal human-like ancestors diverged from the Panini tribe of chimpanzees.

Our homo habilis ancestors came onto the scene about 2.3 million years ago, followed by the homo erectus (meaning “upright man”) around 1.5 million years ago. These homo erectus had twice the cranial capacity of homo habilis and were the first to use fire and tools. By 800,000 years ago, our ancestors had fire firmly under control and were able to use it to cook and break down food and consume more calories than before. With fire, we later would turn clay into pottery, metal into weapons, water into steam power, and create the internal combustion engine.

Anatomically modern homo sapiens sapiens arrived 200,000 years ago in the Middle Paleolithic Age.

Here’s a summary of one of the most riveting stories of all time—the story of how we came to be:

  1. The Universe began about 13.8 billion years ago
  2. The Sun has been around for 4.6 billion years.
  3. The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years
  4. The Moon was formed during a massive collision 4.5 billion years ago
  5. Single cell life forms began appearing about 3.6 billion years ago
  6. Photosynthesis began to create oxygen in the atmosphere about 2.5 billion years ago
  7. Fish began to fill the waters 500 million years ago
  8. Small mammals appeared 200 million years ago, around the same time the continents began to break apart
  9. Dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago after a 6 mile wide asteroid hit the planet and reduced temperatures
  10. The Hominini tribe of bipedal human-like ancestors diverged from the Panini tribe of chimpanzees about 5.4 million years ago.
  11. Upright man (homo erectus) came onto the scene 1.5 million years ago
  12. Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern humans) came onto the scene 200,000 years ago

Pretty amazing, right?

National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Universe 101: How Old Is The Universe
Wikipedia, Pangea
Albert Einstein, Typed Letter to Robert S. Marcuse, Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Wikpedia, Hominin