Author: Steve Rose
What if a camera happened to be orbiting around the Earth taking pictures of it once every four to five years as life evolved from its earliest stage until now? What if those pictures were assembled into a time-lapse movie that would run for 365 days?
If our film was shown at the standard rate of 24 frames per second we
x 24 hours/day
x 60 min/hour
x 60 seconds/min
x 24 frames/second
= 756,864,000 frames/year
Scientists now think that life first appeared about 3.5 billion years ago, give or take a hundred million years. Given the vast size and vague precision of these numbers there's little point in getting bogged down with numerous decimal places, however, 3,500,000,000 years / 756,864,000 frames gives about 1 frame for every 4.62 years of existence, or about 110 years/second of the movie.
Keep in mind that the Earth itself was in various stages of formation for a few billion years before life first occurred. We have rocks that are 4.5 billion years old, but the first life is generaly thought to be about 3.5 billion years ago.
Here is my underlying data.
Let's say we begin watching our movie at midnight on New Year's Eve. We would see that the Earth has continents and oceans, though not at all in the same places it does now. The first blue-green algae would have just come to life and begun photosynthesizing and creating oxygen.
We would watch blue-green algae continue doing this through January, February, March, April, May, and into June before the first appearance of a cellular organism with a true nucleus. At about the same time multicellular organisms, like simple sponges, would also join the cast. Again, nothing much changes through summer and into fall, until the first week of November, when the Cambrian explosion occurs and we begin to see hard-bodied animals, but not yet teenyboppers.
By mid-November millipedes have crawled out on land. Thanksgiving passes and we begin to see amphibians, insects and primitive ferns on the land. On the fourth of December the Permian extinction occurs and 80% of the living species are wiped out. However, within three days the Age of the Dinosaurs has begun, but it will only last for a couple of weeks before they are killed off also.
With only twenty days left in the movie mammals finally enter the scene, and five days later primitive birds. Ironically, on December 25 primitive monkeys show up. With only two days left chimpanzees begin the hominid line. Just after noon of the last day of the year we find Australopithecus walking upright.
Now the action begins to pick up. A little after 7:00 pm on December 31 we see widespread use of stone tools. By 9:30 that evening our predecessors are using fire, but it takes another two hours before Homo sapiens finally makes an appearance. (And we thought we were the stars of the show). It takes us 90 seconds to get across the Bering Staights into the New World. With a minute and 20 seconds left we have finally domesticated dogs and made permanent settlements.
Now the action gets packed. With just 50 seconds left in our movie we see writing, math and the Jewish calendar. All the great religions of the world are founded in the next ten seconds. With nine seconds remaining the Vikings discover the New World again. Columbus does it yet again four seconds later. The American Revolution happens only two seconds before midnight. The Wright brothers fly a motorized airplane with less than a second remaining. The first television program is broadcast with 7/10th of a second left. Hydrogen bombs are exploded in Japan with half a second to go. Only two-tenths of a second before the movie ends, IBM produces the first personal computer. Thankfully, beepers never come into existence in this movie.
In this movie the dinosaurs endured for over two weeks. So far, the entire hominid line has lasted only two days. Homo sapiens have not yet lasted eight minutes, and only three minutes ago we started doing cave paintings. On the other hand, blue-green algae have been here from the beginning.