The origin of the Earth
The age of the Earth was once, and still is, a matter great debate. In 1650 Archbishop Ussher used the Bible to calculate that the Earth was created in 4004BC. Later on in the mid-nineteenth century Charles Darwin believed that the Earth must be extremely old because he recognised that natural selection and evolution required vast amounts of time.
It wasn't until the discovery of radioactivity that scientists began to put a timescale on the history of the Earth. Rocks often contain heavy radioactive elements which decay over long periods of time, the decay is unaffected by the physical and chemical conditions and different elements decay at different rates (These rates are slow and half-lifes of several hundred million years are not uncommon)
Throughout this century the race has been on to discover the oldest rocks in the world. The oldest volcanic rock found so far has been dated at 3.75 billion years old, but this is not the whole story. Meteorites created at the same time as the Earth hit us all the time, radioactive dating shows that they are about 4.55 billion years old.
THE EARLY ATMOSPHERE
THE FIRST BILLION YEARS
The Earth's surface was originally molten, as it cooled the volcanoes belched out massive amounts of CARBON DIOXIDE, STEAM, AMMONIA and METHANE. There was NO OXYGEN. The STEAM condensed to form water which then produced shallow seas.
Evidence points to bacteria flourishing 3.8 billion years ago so this means that life got under way about 700 million years after the Earth was created. Such early forms of life existed in the shallow oceans close to thermal vents, these vents were a source of heat and minerals.
THE NEXT BILLION YEARS
These primitive life forms then took the next evolutionary step and started to PHOTOSYNTHESISE (using sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water to food energy and oxygen). This was an important turning point in Earth history because the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was being converted to oxygen.
THE LAST 2½ BILLION YEARS OR SO
As soon as the oxygen was produced by photosynthesis it was taken out again by reacting with other elements (such as iron).This continued until about 2.1 billion years ago when the concentration of oxygen increased markedly. As oxygen levels built up and then . . . . . .
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