The short version: in the beginning, there was nothing, which then exploded.
The longer version: all the matter in the universe was compressed into the smallest possible volume. Try to understand that this is so much matter that the force of gravity warps the laws of physics as we know them. The whole thing is is under so much pressure that it explodes – forming the universe as we know it as the laws of physics change radically from picosecond to picosecond, and eventually energy cools and congeals into matter.
It’s like they say: “it all started with the Big Bang!”
In the early millenia of what is sometimes referred to as the Hadean era of the Earth, there were no rocks as we would commonly understand the term – it was too hot for them to form. Still, the Earth was slowly cooling and solidifying. It’s worth noting that the Sun itself was not as hot at this time – like the larger planets of our solar system, it was still accreting matter to itself. Rockballs like the Earth (and Mars and Venus) were largely done with this process (although the occasional meteor or cometary impacts still occurred).
By the end of this era, approximately 3,800,000,000 years ago, the Earth had cooled sufficiently to allow for the stable formation of rocks, and its surface had begun to split into tectonic plates. Most importantly for humanity’s future, life had begun: the earliest evidence of photosynthesis dates from around this time.
The majestic oceans of planet Earth were formed neither quickly nor simply. It took literally millions of years between the first surface water’s appearance and the creation of the primordial sea.
Several factors contributed to this: the gradual cooling of the Earth was the first and most important, but also important was the slow release of water from existing minerals, the condensation of steam, and even the addition of water in the form of ice from occasional cometary collisions with the planet.
The first waters soon became the habitat of early prokaryotes – whose biochemical processes led to the formation of still more water. Indeed, it is possible that the majority of water on the planet today exists as a result of these organisms.
The earliest known bipedal vertebrate, eudibamus cursoris was a small parareptile. The sole specimen that has been found (in Thuringia, Germany) measured about 25 cm long – about the size of a house cat. Reconstructions of it give it an appearance resembling a cross between a tiny velociraptor and a modern iguana.
The sole specimen of it known to science was discovered in 2000 by a paleontological team including David S. Berman, Robert R. Reisz, Diane Scott, Amy C. Henrici, Stuart S. Sumida and Thomas Martens. The species is believed to have existed for a span of about five million years or so.
Pangaea was a super-continent – an agglomeration of multiple continents – that came into being about 250 million years ago. It was composed of all the continents we know today fused into a single landmass, surrounded by a single ocean (called Panthalassa) – and was the last time such a thing occurred. In fact, it was slightly larger than the combined areas of the modern continents, as supercontinent formation tends to lead to lower sea levels.
Pangaea (the name comes from the Greek Pan meaning All and Gaea meaning Earth) existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, and its best known inhabitants were the dinosaurs. It began to break up approximately 75 million years after it formed, although the continents would not reach anything approximating their modern positions until only about 35 million years ago, when the Indian subcontinent collided with Asia.
Everyone loves the dinosaurs. A lot of people – if the Jurassic Park films are to be believed – would like to see them come back. But without their extinction, we wouldn’t be here today.
Even now, it’s still not clear what exactly caused the extinction event – but the best known hypothesis is that of Luis and Walter Alvarez, which states that a meteoric or cometary impact caused a nuclear winter-like effect that altered the climate drastically, wiping out something like 75% of all species alive at the time. The effects were particularly felt by larger species – which included most dinosaurs.
In the wake of the event, now open evolutionary niches were occupied by mammals and birds, including our own ancestors.
Australopithecus was an early proto-hominid that evolved in Eastern Africa around 4 million years ago. It consisted of a number of sub-species: A. anamensis, A. afarensis, A. sediba, and A. africanus; and two more sub-species whose genus is disputed: A. robustus and A. boisei. Over the course of two million years or so, the various Australopithecenes ranged across Eastern and Southern Africa.
The Australopithecines evolved about 2 million years after the split between the ancestral roots of humanity and chimpanzees (our closest relative), and one or more of the various sub-species of Australopithecus is likely to have been the progenitor of the Homo Genus, to which modern humanity (homo sapiens sapiens) belongs.
Okay, this one’s a bit of a reach, but work with me here.
At some point, boats were invented. We do not when, or where, or by whom. Nor, Mr Brown’s opinions aside, do we know what gender the inventor had.
What we do know is that, at the very latest, humans arrived in Australia having traveled by boat approximately 65,000 years ago. However, some evidence suggests that boats were actually invented in the Indonesian archipelago somewhere around 900,000 years ago.
The earliest known example of tool making by a hominid species, the Mousterian tools were created by members of the species homo neanderthalensis. They were primarily a flint-based technology, consisting mostly of cutting and scraping tools. Their name derives from Le Moustier in France, where such tools were discovered. However, it is unlikely that Le Moustier is the actual site of the tools’ origin, as similar tools have been found throughout Europe, the Near East and North Africa. Wherever they were invented, they clearly disseminated widely and – one assumes – swiftly.
The advent of tool making is the beginning of humanity’s technology-enabled conquest of the world. Up until this point, our ancestors were one species among many – a little smarter than most, but not especially better adapted than any other. Tool making changed that, making hominid species deadlier and more efficient hunters, and leading in time to the technological civilization that anyone reading this lives in today.
In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, with an increasing amount of evidence supporting the earliest date. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.
One of the most well-known Middle Eastern poets in the West, largely due to an apparently neverending series of translations of his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyám was also a mathematician, an astronomer, and as his poetry tends to indicate, a philosopher. He’s one of the few people in history that could have dealt with Leonardo da Vinci as an equal, a true polymath whose work remains influential even today. Notably, he was one of the reformers who modified the Persian Calendar in 1079 – the new calendar, known as the Jalali calendar, is still in use (with some minor corrections) in Iran and Afghanistan.
Of course, he was also damned cool – legend has it that he was a boyhood friend of Hassan i Sabbah (and if you don’t know who he was, you’re in for a surprise), while modern historical research has uncovered evidence suggesting that he devised a heliocentric model of our Solar System centuries before Copernicus. Frankly, he’s a candidate for interesting historical fictions just waiting to happen.
James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.
He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.
Although there has been considerable controversy over the years regarding who actually invented radio – controversy not helped by Marconi himself being at times over-willing to claim credit for the work of others – it is now generally agreed that it was Marconi himself who first invented radio. (The disputes mostly revolve around who invented various later refinements of Marconi’s original patent.)
That patent – British Patent 12039 “Improvements in Transmitting Electrical impulses and Signals, and in Apparatus therefor” – was applied for on June 2 of 1896, with the complete specification being provided on March 2 of the following year, and the patent as a whole being accepted on July 2, 1897.
Unfortunately for Marconi, Tesla had been granted similar patents in America, and the two men would spend decades locked acrimonious dispute over the matter. In fact, in America it would only be resolved by a court decision after both men had died – the court found in favour of Tesla. But perhaps Marconi won anyway – it’s his name, not Tesla’s, which is used as a synonym for ‘radio’ even today.
It is probably the best known maritime tragedy in history. The RMS Titanic, the largest passnger ship afloat and pride of the White Star Line, was three days out of Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York City when it collided with an iceberg and sank. Of the 2223 passengers and crew, fully 1517 of them were drowned, largely due to an insufficiency of lifeboats.
It’s a matter of historical record that the eight members of the ship’s band continued to play as the ship sank, in a feat of gallantry intended to keep spirits high. All eight of these men died in the sinking. Debate has raged over what their final song was. Some claimed that is was ‘Autumn’, others that it was ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. The debate is further complicated by the fact that ‘Autumn’ could have referred to either hymn tune known as “Autumn” or the tune of the then-popular waltz “Songe d’Automne” (although neither of these tunes were included in the White Star Line songbook). Similarly, there are two arrangements of ‘Nearer My God To Thee’, one popular in Britain and the other in America (and the British one sounds not unlike ‘Autumn’) – and a third arrangement was found in the personal effects of band leader’s fiance.
Tutankhamun, or King Tut, was one of the most mysterious of the Egyptian pharaohs, largely because his successors had tried very hard to eradicate all records of his existence. Fortuitously, this meant that his tomb was lost for centuries, and not found until the 1920s, allowing archaeologists a good idea of what a pharaonic tomb that hadn’t been plundered and vandalised looked like.
The innermost chamber of it, where the boy king himself lay, was the last part to be unsealed. Archaeologist Howard Carter, the leader of the dig, was the first to see into the tomb. When asked what he saw, he replied “Wonderful things”. He was right. The collection of artifacts from this tomb is the most complete existing for any Egyptian ruler, and has traveled the world many times in the century since its discovery.
Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current, and a personal and business rival of Thomas Edison for decades, died penniless and alone in a hotel in New York. Despite his many inventions and great fame, he had few friends and virtually nothing to show for his work by this, his 87th year of life.
Tesla has been more fondly remembered in fiction than in history, where he is often the archetypal Mad Scientist – and hero or villain with about equal frequency.
One of the elements of the actinide group, Californium was first synthesized on approximately February 9, 1950 by researchers at the University of California. After checking and replicating the initial experiment, its discovery was announced a month later, and the element named for the university (and state) where it had been created.
Unusually for a synthetic element, it was later discovered in naturally occurring forms, albeit as a result of extremely rare phenomena. Californium also has practical uses, notably in initiating nuclear reactions and in the creation of higher elements – ununoctium (element 118) was synthesized by bombarding californium-249 atoms with calcium-48 ions
The nuclear tests at Enewetak were part of a series called Operation Greenhouse. The bombs in the Greenhouse series were smaller in size, weight and amount of fissile material used. At the time they were made, the US had already begun creating a stockpile of such weapons in advance of testing.
Operation Greenhouse was not the first test of the Eisenhower administration, but it was the first to take place at the Pacific Proving Grounds (which were, technically, not even US territory, being instead land held under a United Nations mandate). The aggressive testing schedule of 1951 was largely in response to Soviet Union’s first successful nuclear test in August 1949.
In the early days of space exploration, no government seemed ready to send humans into space. After all, no one knew what sort of effects exposure to conditions in space would have on human biology. But dogs and monkeys were fair game.
The United States launched monkey flights between 1948 and 1961, and France launched two monkey space flights in 1967. Most – but not all – monkeys were anesthetized before lift-off. Each monkey flew only one mission, although there were numerous back-up monkeys also went through the programs but never flew. Monkey species used included rhesus monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, squirrel monkeys and pig-tailed macaques.
Able, was a rhesus monkey, and Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and on May 28, 1959, aboard the JUPITER AM-18, they became the first living beings to successfully return to Earth after traveling in space. They travelled in excess of 16,000 km/h, and withstood 38 g (373 m/s²). Their names had no particular significance, being simply taken from a phonetic alphabet.
Able died on June 1, 1959 during surgery but Baker lived into old age, dying on November 29, 1984, She is buried on the grounds of the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Able was preserved, and is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.
As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.
Or was he?
Ever since Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin filmed a hairy humanoid at Bluff Creek, California, on October 20, 1967, people have been arguing about it.
Patterson was widely believed to be a con-man, and the odds of someone who was specifically looking for Bigfoot finding her are, let’s face it, long. And the blurry footage shows what could easily be some dude in a Star Trek alien costume. (Indeed, Janos Prohaska, costume designer for Star Trek, was among the most vocal skeptics.)
On the other hand, cryptozoologists like to point out the unusual gait of the bigfoot, which they claim is nothing like that of a human, or the fact that there had been sightings at Bluff Creek before this time – although the skeptics claim that as an argument for their side, too…
The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.
Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.
His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.
Under the terms of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, it became possible for duly appointed local authorities (reporting in turn to state authorities, under the overall coordination of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to declare moratoriums on fishing for the Atlantic Striped Bass – known to fisherman as the Striper – for periods of up to 30 days. But these moratoriums could also be renewed more or less indefinitely, until it was determined by the authority that the population of the fish had recovered sufficiently.
While in most locations, populations of the Atlantic Striped Bass did indeed recover – although the process took around a decade – that was little consolation to the fisherman who lost their livelihoods in the meantime.
The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository is exactly what it sounds like: a facility located inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada. It was exhaustively researched as a potential facility throughout the eighties and nineties, and finally given the go ahead in 2002. It is intended that it be a safe place to store radioactive materials for up to a million years (the longest anticipated time for the materials in question to remain radioactive).
Although construction has commenced, there have been numerous delays, and the Obama administration has repeatedly cut the funds available for the project, which is now unlikely to be ready for use before 2020.
So that’s something to look forward to.
At 6:10AM on the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made a landfall on the Louisiana coast near Buras-Triumph. After moving along the coast, it made another landfall near the border of Louisiana and Mississippi. Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive natural disaster to strike the United States in recorded history. The confirmed death toll was 1836 (in May 2006), however this is a conversative estimate, and does not include more than 700 people missing, nor indirect deaths.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency displayed a level of incompetence that was close to unbelievable. The level of it was such that corruption or deliberate malice seemed more likely explanation, just as this song suggests:
Originally discovered in 1930, Pluto was at that time classed as a planet, and named for the Roman god of the Underworld. However, as the years went by, evidence mounted that it was not truly a major planet. Although it did have moons of its own, it also had an eccentric orbit (which crosses that of Neptune, the next furthest out planet) and a lower mass than any other planet.
The discovery that Pluto was just one of a number of bodies in the Kuiper Belt, many of them with comparable size and mass, also weakened the arguments for considering it a planet. Finally, a new definition of what a planet issued by the International Astronomical Union on August 24, 2006, excluded Pluto. On September 13, Pluto was named a Dwarf Planet, alongside Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris – all of which, other than Ceres, are also Kuiper Belt objects.
The Large Hadron Collider or LHC is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, it lies in a tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is 27 kilometres in circumference, and as low as 175 metres below ground level at its deepest points.
The LHC is intended to collide opposing particle beams for the purpose of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, notably the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson and of the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetry. The beams will be composed of either protons at an energy of 7 TeV per particle, or lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV per nucleus.
On 10 September 2008, proton beams were successfully circulated in the main ring of the LHC for the first time. However, only 9 days later, operations were halted due to a serious fault between two superconducting bending magnets. Repairs and the installation of additional safety features have pushed back the operating date of the LHC, which is now planned to recommence operations in mid-November 2009.