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The Big Bang!

ESCI 511
Spring 2005
• How and when did the:
– universe form?
– solar system / Earth form?
– Moon form?

• What were early Earth conditions?

How Do We Know?
Origin of the Universe
• Big Bang
– occurred 15 billion years ago
– model for the beginning of the universe
Building a Universe

- infinitely dense point not

governed by our physical laws or

- all matter and energy contained

in one point
Building a Universe

- instantaneous filling of
space with all matter
Edwin Hubble

• Universe is continuously expanding

• Galaxy’s velocity is proportional to its distance

(galaxies that are twice as far from us move twice as
– taken every galaxy the same amount of time to move from a
common starting position to its current position
Hubble’s Evidence

• Doppler shifting - wavelength emitted by something moving

away from us is shifted to a lower frequency
• Sound of a fire truck siren - pitch of the siren is higher as the fire
truck moves towards you, and lower as it moves away from you
• Visible wavelengths emitted by objects moving away from us
are shifted towards the red part of the visible spectrum
• The faster they move away from us, the more they are
redshifted. Thus, redshift is a reasonable way to measure the
speed of an object (this, by the way, is the principal by which
radar guns measure the speed of a car or baseball)
• When we observe the redshift of galaxies outside our local
group, every galaxy appears to be moving away from us -
universe is expanding.
Evidence for Big Bang

• Red shift - as light from distant galaxies approach earth there is

an increase of space between earth and the galaxy, which leads
to wavelengths being stretched

• In 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, discovered a noise of

extraterrestrial origin that came from all directions at once -
radiation left over from the Big Bang

• In June 1995, scientists detected primordial helium in the far

reaches of the universe - consistent with an important aspect of
the Big Bang theory that a mixture of hydrogen and helium was
created at the beginning of the universe
Building a •10-43 s - gravity separates from other
forces - 10-28 centimeters
Universe •10-35 to 10-32 s - fundamental particles
- quarks and electrons - softball
•10-6 s - quarks combine into protons
and neutrons - solar system
•1 s - electromagnetic and weak nuclear
forces separate
•3 minutes - protons and neutrons
combine into atomic nuclei

•105 years - electrons join nuclei to

make atoms; light is emitted
•105-109 years - matter collapses into
clouds, making galaxies and stars

Orion Nebula -

When Did the Universe Form?
• 10 to 20 billion years ago (15)

• How do we know?
– spreading (Red Shift)
– know distances, rates of
retreat, relative positions

– pervasive background
radiation of 2.7°C above
absolute zero
– afterglow of the Big Bang

Orion Nebula -

How old is the universe?

• Speed x time = distance

• (distance of a particular galaxy) / (that galaxy’s
velocity) = (time)
– or
• 4.6 x 10^26 cm / 1 x 10^9 cm/sec = 4.6 x 10^17 sec
– ~ 15 billion years
Origin of Our Solar System
Solar nebula theory
• cloud of gases and
dust • formed a rotating
• condensed and
collapsed due to
• forming solar nebula
– with an embryonic Sun
– surrounded by a rotating cloud
Embryonic Sun and Rotating Cloud
• planetesimals have formed in the inner solar

• large eddies of gas and dust remain far from

the protosun
Precambrian Earth and Life History

• The Teton
– is largely
schist, and
– younger
rocks are
also present
but not visible Grand Teton National Park,
Precambrian: The First 4 Billion Years

88% of geologic
Rocks Difficult to Interpret
• The earliest record of geologic time preserved in
rocks is difficult to interpret
– many Precambrian rocks have been
• altered by metamorphism
• complexly deformed
• buried deep beneath younger rocks
• fossils are rare
• Subdivisions of the Precambrian have been
difficult to establish

Eons of the Precambrian
• Two eons for the Precambrian
– are the Archean and Proterozoic

• Hadean is an informal designation

– for the time for which we don't have a rock record
What Happened
During the Hadean?
• No rocks of Hadean age present on Earth
– except for meteorites

• Yet, we do know some events that took place

– Earth accreted from planetesimals
– differentiated into a core and mantle, and at least
some crust
– Earth was bombarded by meteorites
– volcanic activity was ubiquitous
– atmosphere formed, quite different from today’s
– oceans began to accumulate
Hot, Barren, Waterless Early Earth

• about 4.6 billion years ago

• Shortly after accretion, Earth was

– a rapidly rotating, hot, barren, waterless planet
– bombarded by comets and meteorites
– no continents, intense cosmic radiation
– widespread volcanism
Oldest Rocks
• Oldest known rocks on Earth are 3.96-billion-
year-old Acasta Gneiss in Canada and other
rocks in Montana
– some continental crust must have evolved by 4 billion
years ago

• Sedimentary rocks in Australia contain detrital

zircons dated at 4.2 billion years old
– so source rocks at least that old existed

• These rocks indicted that some kind of Hadean

crust was certainly present
– but its distribution is unknown
Hadean Crust
• Early Hadean crust was probably thin, unstable
and made up of ultramafic rock
• rock with comparatively little silica
Where does this occur now?
• This ultramafic crust was disrupted
• by upwelling basaltic magma at ridges
• and consumed at subduction zones

• Later Hadean continental crust may have

formed by evolution of felsic material
• only felsic crust, because of its lower density, is immune to
destruction by subduction (sialic)
Second Crustal Evolution Stage
• Second stage in crustal evolution began as Earth’s production
of radiogenic heat decreased

• Subduction and partial melting of earlier-formed basaltic crust

– resulted in the origin of andesitic island arcs

• Partial melting of lower crustal andesites, in turn, yielded silica-

rich granitic magmas

• Several sialic continental nuclei had formed by the beginning of

Archean time
Dynamic Processes
• During the Hadean, various dynamic systems became

• Once Earth differentiated into core, mantle and crust,

– internal heat caused interactions among plates as they
diverged, converged , and slid past each other

• Continents began to grow

by accretion along
convergent plate boundaries
Continental Foundations
• Continental crust
– composition similar to that of granite
– thicker and less dense than oceanic crust

• Precambrian shields
– consist of vast areas of exposed ancient rocks
– found on all continents
Distribution of Precambrian Rocks
• Areas of
constitute the

• Platforms
consist of
buried Pre-

– Shields and adjoining platforms make up cratons

Canadian Shield
• The craton in North America is the
Canadian shield
– occupies most of northeastern Canada
– parts of the Lake Superior region
• in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan
– and the Adirondack Mountains of New York
Canadian Shield Rocks

• Gneiss, a metamorphic rock, Georgian Bay

Ontario, Canada
Canadian Shield Rocks

• Basalt (dark, volcanic) and granite (light,

plutonic) on the Chippewa River, Ontario
Archean Rocks Beyond the Shield

Rocky Mountains,

• Archean metamorphic rocks found

– in areas of uplift in the Rocky Mtns
Archean Rocks Beyond the Shield

• Archean Brahma Schist in the deeply

eroded parts of the Grand Canyon, Arizona
Precambrian: The First 4 Billion Years

88% of geologic
The Archean

• Most geologists are convinced that some kind of

plate tectonics took place during the Archean
– but it differed in detail from today

• Plates must have moved faster

– more residual heat from Earth’s origin
– more radiogenic heat
– magma was generated more rapidly
The Origin of Cratons
• Several small cratons existed by the beginning
of the Archean
– and grew by periodic continental accretion during
the rest of that eon
• They amalgamated into a larger unit during the
Early Proterozoic
By the end of the Archean,
30-40% of the present
volume of continental crust
Atmosphere and Hydrosphere
• Earth’s early atmosphere and hydrosphere were
quite different than they are now

• Today’s atmosphere is mostly

– nitrogen (N2)
– abundant free oxygen (O2)
• oxygen not combined with other elements
• such as in carbon dioxide (CO2)
– water vapor (H2O)
– ozone (O3)
• common enough in the upper atmosphere to
block most of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation
Earth’s Very Early Atmosphere
• Earth’s very early atmosphere was probably
composed of
– hydrogen and helium, the most abundant gases in the

• If so, it would have quickly been lost into space

– Earth’s gravity is insufficient to retain them
– Earth had no magnetic field until its core formed
• without a magnetic field, the solar wind would have swept
away any atmospheric gases

So how did the modern atmosphere originate?

• Once a core-generated
magnetic field protected
the gases released during
volcanism (outgassing),
they began to accumulate
to form a new atmosphere

• Water vapor is the most

common volcanic gas
– volcanoes also emit carbon
dioxide, sulfur dioxide,
carbon monoxide, sulfur,
hydrogen, chlorine, and
Hadean-Archean Atmosphere
• Hadean volcanoes probably emitted the same
gases, and thus an atmosphere developed
– but one lacking free oxygen and an ozone layer

• It was rich in carbon dioxide and gases reacting in

this early atmosphere probably formed
• ammonia (NH3)
• methane (CH4)

• This early atmosphere persisted throughout the

How do we know the early atmosphere
was oxygen-free?
• Early atmosphere was chemically reducing, rather
than an oxidizing one

• Some of the evidence for this conclusion comes from

detrital deposits containing minerals that oxidize
rapidly in the presence of oxygen
• pyrite (FeS2)
• uraninite (UO2)

• But oxidized iron becomes increasingly common in

Proterozoic rocks, indicating that at least some free
oxygen was present
How did we get free oxygen?
• Two processes account for introducing free oxygen
into the atmosphere,
• one or both of which began during the Hadean

1. Photochemical dissociation involves ultraviolet

radiation in the upper atmosphere
• radiation disrupts water molecules and releases their
oxygen and hydrogen
• could account for 2% of present-day oxygen
• but with 2% oxygen, ozone forms, creating a barrier
against ultraviolet radiation

2. More important were the activities of organism that

practiced photosynthesis
• Photosynthesis is a metabolic process
– carbon dioxide and water combine into organic
– oxygen is released as a waste product
CO2 + H2O ==> organic compounds + O2

• Even with photochemical dissociation and

– probably no more than 1% of the free oxygen level
of today was present by the end of the Archean
Oxygen Forming Processes
• Photochemical dissociation and
– added free oxygen to the atmosphere
– once free
oxygen was
present an
ozone layer
– and blocked
Earth’s Surface Waters
• Outgassing was also responsible for the Earth’s
surface water - the hydrosphere
– most of which is in the oceans - more than 97%

• Some, but probably not much, of our surface water

was derived from icy comets

• Probably at some time during the Hadean, the Earth

had cooled sufficiently so that the abundant volcanic
water vapor condensed and began to accumulate in

• Oceans were present by Early Archean times

Ocean water
• The volume and geographic extent of the Early Archean oceans
cannot be determined

• Nevertheless, we can envision an early Earth with considerable

volcanism and a rapid accumulation of surface waters

• Volcanoes still erupt and release water vapor

– is the volume of ocean water still increasing?
– perhaps it is, but if so, the rate has decreased considerably
– the amount of heat needed to generate magma has

• Much of volcanic water vapor today is recycled surface water

Decreasing Heat
• Ratio of radiogenic heat production in the past
to the present
– width of the
variations in • Heat
ratios from production 4
different billion years
models ago was 4 to
6 times as
– with less heat, great as it is
outgassing now
First Organisms
• Today, Earth’s biosphere contains
– millions of species of bacteria, fungi, protistans, plants,
and animals,
– only bacteria are found in Archean rocks

• We have fossils from Archean rocks

– 3.3 to 3.5 billion years old

• Carbon isotope ratios in rocks in Greenland

– 3.85 billion years old
– convince some investigators that life was
present then
How Did Life First Originate?
• To originate by natural processes, life must have
passed through a prebiotic stage
– in which it showed signs of living organisms
– but was not truly living

• In 1924, the great Russian biochemist, A.I. Oparin,

postulated that life originated when Earth’s
atmosphere had little or no free oxygen
– oxygen is damaging to Earth’s
most primitive living organisms

comparatively simple organic (carbon based)

molecules known as microspheres
How Did Life First Originate?
• With little or no oxygen in the early atmosphere
– and no ozone layer to block ultraviolet radiation,
– life could have come into existence from nonliving

• The origin of life has 2 requirements

– a source of appropriate elements for organic
– energy sources to promote chemical reactions
Primordial Soup
• Amino acids in the “ primordial soup”
– might have washed up onto a beach or perhaps cinder
– where they were concentrated by evaporation
– and polymerized by heat

• The polymers then washed back into the ocean

where they reacted further
Next Critical Step
• Not much is known about the next critical step in
the origin of life
• the development of a reproductive mechanism

• The microspheres divide

– may represent a protoliving system
– but in today’s cells nucleic acids, either RNA or DNA,
are necessary for reproduction

• The problem is that nucleic acids

– cannot replicate without protein enzymes
– appropriate enzymes cannot be made without nucleic
– or so it seemed until fairly recently
RNA World?
• Now we know that small RNA molecules can replicate
without the aid of protein enzymes
– the first replicating systems may have been RNA molecules

• Some researchers propose an early “RNA world” in

which these molecules were intermediate between
– inorganic chemical compounds
– and the DNA-based molecules of organisms

• How RNA was naturally

synthesized remains and
unsolved problem
Much Remains to Be Learned
• The origin of life has not been fully solved
– but considering the complexity of the problem
– and the fact that scientists have been experimenting for
only about 50 years
– remarkable progress has been made

• Many researchers believe that the earliest organic

molecules were synthesized from atmospheric
- but some scientist suggest that
life arose instead near
hydrothermal vents on the
Precambrian Life
• Prior to the mid-1950s, scientists had little knowledge of
Precambrian life

• They assumed Cambrian life must have had a long early

– but the fossil record offered little to support this idea

• A few enigmatic Precambrian fossils had been reported

– but most were dismissed as inorganic structures of one kind or

• The Precambrian, once called Azoic (“without life”),

seemed devoid of life
Oldest Know Organisms
• Charles Walcott (early 1900s) described structures
from the Early Proterozoic Gunflint Iron Formation of
Ontario, Canada
– that he proposed represented reefs constructed by algae

• Now called
– not until 1954
were they
shown to be
products of
organic activity

Present-day stromatolites Shark Bay, Australia

• Different types of stromatolites include:
– irregular mats, columns, and columns linked by
• Present-day stromatolites form and grow
– as sediment grains are trapped on sticky mats of
photosynthesizing blue-green algae (cyanobacteria)
– they are restricted to environments where snails cannot live

Shark Bay,
• The oldest known undisputed stromatolites
– are found in rocks in
South Africa that are
3.0 billion years old

– but probable ones

are also known from
the Warrawoona
Group in Australia
which is 3.3 to 3.5
billion years old
Other Evidence of Early Life
• Carbon isotopes in rocks 3.85 billion years old in
Greenland indicate life was perhaps present then

• The oldest known cyanobacteria were

photosynthesizing organisms
– but photosynthesis is a complex metabolic process

• A simpler type of metabolism must have preceded it

• No fossils are known of these earliest organisms

Earliest Organisms
• The earliest organisms must have resembled tiny
anaerobic bacteria
– they required no oxygen

• They must have totally depended on an external

source of nutrients
– they were heterotrophic
– as opposed to autotrophic organisms
• that make their own nutrients, as in photosynthesis

• They all had prokaryotic cells

– they lacked a cell nucleus
– lacked other internal cell structures typical of eukaryotic
Earliest Organisms
• The earliest organisms, then, were anaerobic,
heterotrophic prokaryotes

• Their nutrient source was most likely adenosine

triphosphate (ATP) from their environment
– which was used to drive the energy-requiring reactions
in cells

• ATP can easily be synthesized from simple

gases and phosphate
– so it was doubtless available in the early Earth
• A very important biological event occurring in the
Archean was the development of the autotrophic
process of photosynthesis

• This may have happened as much as 3.5 billion

years ago

• These prokaryotic cells were still anaerobic,

– but as autotrophs they were no longer dependent on
preformed organic molecules as a source of nutrients

• These anaerobic, autotrophic prokaryotes

– belong to the Kingdom Monera
– represented today by bacteria and cyanobacteria
Fossil Prokaryotes
• Photomicrographs from western Australia’s3.3-
to 3.5-billion-year-old Warrawoona Group
– schematic restoration shown at the right of each