JOHN S. MASON - INTERPRETATION - MAKING SCIENCE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL: AN EXAMPLE

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How can the 4,600 million years of Earth history be appreciated by humans who measure time in hours, days, weeks, months, years and generations? It is a massive amount of time!  To demonstrate how vast this timescale really is, I got the latest ages for beginnings and ends of the geological Periods into which this long history is divided. Then I plotted them  against the 12-month calendar by which we organise our lives.

In such a plot, each month represents 4,600/12=383 million years. Each day would represent 4,600/365=12.6 million years. Consider then: relative to geological time, a human’s 80-year life expectancy equates to 0.55 seconds out of the 12-month calendar, and would not even be visible on this plot!

The graphic below is compressed for the web so sorry if it's a bit fuzzy! The outer ring is our 12-month year while the inner ring is the 4600 million years of Earth's history. Please note that the plot is bilingual as this version is a reduced copy of a much larger one which I created for a Forest Enterprise interpretation board in North Wales.

Does this work for you? If anybody who reads this and has no prior geological knowledge finds it informative I'd be delighted to hear from them! It certainly made me think how chronologically insignificant Homo Sapiens actually is...

The timescales run along with a text timeline which is available in full (as are hi-res versions of the graphic) for a reproduction fee of 50 each. I work to keep the text up-to-date as new research tweaks the ages of the oldest rocks, stratigraphic boundaries etc. The graphic is available in TIFF format and the text is usually supplied as a MS Word document. Below I have pasted the beginning and the end of the text to give a flavour. geological time plotThe story begins on New Year's day in the imaginary year:

January 1: about 4,600 million years ago. The formation of Planet Earth as it condenses from the hot gases of the Solar Nebula...

January to late February: the Hadean eon. 4,600-3,800 million years ago Meaning: the time of the netherworld. The new Planet Earth is largely molten and is constantly bombarded by asteroids. The oldest rocks so far known on Earth (around 4,280 million years old), found in Canada, are from this time.

Late February to mid-June: Archaean eon. 3,800-2,500 million years ago. Meaning: the ancient world. Earth now has a solid crust and oceans. Life starts to appear in the form of bacterial colonies during March (3,400 million years ago - oldest known fossils). But the atmosphere is poor in oxygen and is mainly ammonia, methane, hydrogen and other gases. The oldest rocks in the UK, found in north-west Scotland, were formed in May......

[BREAK]

......December 26, 5.45PM-December 31, 8.29PM: The Cenozoic Era. 65-2.58 million years ago. Meaning:  (“age of recent life”). The final era begins with the Paleogene and Neogene systems. Under a mostly warm climate, the mammals thrive and diversify. They include the ancestors of horses, cattle, and, later on, apes.

December 31, 8.30pm: Start of the Pleistocene Series of the Quaternary System. 2.58 million years ago. Several ice-ages, with warmer interglacials in-between, affect NW Europe, in the final shaping of our landscape.

December 31, 11.37pm: Homo Sapiens - or Modern Man - appears.

December 31, 11.58.24: Start of the Holocene Series of the Quaternary System. 11,784 years ago. The last ice-age is over.

December 31, 11.59.47: The Romans invade Britain.

December 31, 11.59.54: The Norman conquest.

December 31, 11.59.58: The Industrial Revolution is now underway. In an instant, computers are in widespread use. Suddenly, the clock strikes midnight. Our trip through the past has ended. Welcome to the future....

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