Published December 2020
Welcome back and good bye to 2020. This is my final article of the year and I want to wish everyone a restful holiday season. I can’t think of a better way to rest than in nature, and therefore it is apt that my final article is on the subject. If you have missed part 1 or 2 of this series you can read them using the links at the end.
For those of you who didn’t know, life did not start on the planet’s surface.
It is believed that primitive life started within geysers inside the earth’s crust which recycled hot liquids between the heated core and cooler surface. Within this system there was an abundance of uranium ore which emitted large amounts of radiation, and that helped create a range of materials including the early building blocks of life, like amino acid. (A group of organic compounds that form the building blocks of proteins and make up about 75% of our body).
The mixing of wet and dry cycles helped Prota-RNA develop, which are life encoding molecules. These in tern evolved into Ribozyme molecules (probably around 4.1 billion years ago) and they were something special because they were able to replicate themselves. RNA molecules have the power to catalyse specific biochemical reactions, including RNA splicing in gene expression. Still, we had not reached ‘life’ yet, we had achieved ‘goo’ status, which could in the right environment, make more goo.
More time passed, and eventually the second stage of protolife evolved. It used the sun to ‘obtain’ energy for itself, and therefore the first type of primitive metabolism appeared. Sugar could be made to offer energy at night, and this meant ‘life’ could migrate away from the spaces where they use to get all their energy, which up and until now originated from the core of the planet.
As they say: ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Unfortunately, our planet experienced its first mass extinction around this time, but fortunately not all of evolutions progress was lost, and the surviving unstable RNA would eventually with more time evolve (probably through ionizing radiation) into more durable DNA. This meant it was now possible to pass information onto the next ‘generation’ of goo, which then brought us to the third type of proto-life, the beginning of prokaryotic organisms, the ancestors of today’s bacteria. It is in my opinion, (based on my equitable understanding), this was the moment LIFE was born, because instead of these mass of goo molecules just being able to replicate more of themselves, the new goo could now ‘save’ and ‘update’ information on changes it made (through mutation), and then replicate the new design.
Each generation was now a little wiser than the one that came before. This was the birth of Story Telling, and absolute universal heritage of all living things. I can’t wait to tell Gcina Mhlophe. I am a huge admirer of her and I belief she is the most special poet of our day in Africa. I am certain she will find this nugget interesting.
Up and until now, the oxygen on earth was harmful to organisms. Life’s next trick would be to evolve and use oxygen as part of its processes in creating energy. Cyanobacteria produced oxygen and reduced iron content in the ocean. Do not underestimate how many of these critters there would need to be in order to influence the composition of the ocean. Even today, the smallest things make up more biomass than all humans combined, which in one article I read said it is about 375 million tonnes. Tiny antarctic krill on the other hand are estimated to be at 500 million tonnes.
Have you ever wondered how heavy earth is? It is roughly 13 billion trillion tonnes, and continues to gain about 160 tonnes annually.
Around 2.7 billion years ago, mantel plumes created large landmasses which the cyanobacteria absolutely loved, and their numbers boomed. With that, oxygen levels rose substantially because these critters created it as a by-product. It was around this time our oceans turned blue.
Unfortunately, it was time for another extinction level event. (Around 2.3 billion years ago). This time, it happened because there was a collision between the Milkyway (our galaxy) and another smaller galaxy. During this cosmic pileup many new stars were created, some of these died in supernova explosions which bombarded our planets solar system with so much energy our sun's heliosphere (a bubble of protection around all the planets in our solar system) deteriorated and earth was abused by extreme cosmic rays. This radiation caused a chain of events, and the earth reacted by covering itself with clouds. Our planet would have looked like a snow ball from space.
Fortunately again, some life survived and over time the earth recovered. Prokaryotes (unicellular organisms that lack organelles or other internal membrane-bound structures) evolved into more complex life like endosymbiotic systems, (blobs that lived within one another, without consuming each other) and had a mutually beneficial relationship of sorts. These creatures in term evolved into mitochondria (a name I first learnt from Star Trek) and chloroplasts. Life started to appear in ‘bigger’ shapes.
Around 1.9 billion years ago, there was a very large land mass we named Nuna. It provided wonderful habitats for bacteria and without it evolution may have been stunted. Life on Nuna flourished and increased atmospheric oxygen levels further.
Eventually, over many more years, Nuna broke up and then shifted its parts around the globe, finally re-joining to create a new landmass called Rodina. We have had a variety of supercontinents over time: Pannotia, Pangaea and Gondwana (which was actually half of Pangaea), along with a northern supercontinent known as Laurasia.
While landmasses were shifting about, cooperating cells evolved to become the first animals, and there is DNA evidence suggesting this happened around 800 million years ago. All living things (animals and plants) are classified as ‘multicellular eukaryotes’.
Can I go off the path quickly?
Did you know the Octopus is very unique compared to any other animal? These creatures can change their own RNA and the fact that they have no back bone means they leave very few fossils making it near impossible to determine how old their species might be. Some scientists believe they are extra-terrestrial and they might have arrived on a comet. The evidence we do have suggests their evolutionary process started at a different point. The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33 000 protein-coding genes. In addition to this, this animal has nine brains, blue blood and 3 hearts. The male sex organ is on one of their arms, and the female in their head through what appears to me in diagrams as the equivalent of a nostril.
Let’s get back on track.
Over more time, the continents started to sink, and the plates cooled the earth’s core. The cooling planet resulted in the loss of the earths dipole magnetic field (a magnetic force which emanates from two opposite poles) and a weaker magnetic field formed called a quadrupole magnetic field (four equal monopoles, or two equal dipoles close to one another with an alternating polarity). A magnetic field back then, as it is now, is the difference between having a planet like earth and a planet like Mars. Mars lost its magnetic field around 4 billion years ago and it is extremely unhospitable today because of this.
About 700 million years ago, the Milkyway collided again with another dwarf galaxy. More stars, more cosmic rays, clouds and cold. This period of time was dubbed the ‘starburst period’. The earth as it had done a few times before already, took some time to thaw out. These cycles repeated several times in our planets history and each time there was a major loss of life. The planetary ripple effects over these years included frequent fluctuating oxygen and radiation levels, which helped accelerate the evolution of many species.
Did you know our Milkyway Galaxy is expected to crash into a larger galaxy called Andromeda in 4.5 billion years’ time? Want to know more? Well, Andromeda is about 110000 light years in size. Our galaxy is only about 52850 light years in size. Our entire solar system is 287.4 billion kms wide. The largest galaxy we know of is IC 1101, it is around 50 times that of the Milky Way’s size. Did you know there are Suns out there that are huge! I mean absolutely colossal. Google ‘UY Scuti’, it has a diameter of 2.37 billion kms, our sun is only 1392000 kms in diameter.
Did you get that all?
Good, I will add it to your test on Monday.
From what I have come to understand while researching these articles, is that all life came from water. Primitive life resembled an animal and ‘arrived’ before primitive ‘plant’. Primitive plants did however ‘move’ onto land first. The first group of species to monopolize land were amphibians, then reptiles, dinosaurs, mammals and now us. Animals took to the sky between the reptile and dinosaur era. The land mass called Pangea is where our ancestors first appeared at the rift of the Gondwana supercontinent. There were three types of primates: Old World, New World, and Lorises.
600 million years ago our dipole magnetic field returned while the earth’s inner core cooled more. At the same time, our ocean levels dropped through a process called the ‘leaking earth phenomenon’. As a result, land surface increased and more rivers formed, which were great for the mixing up of nutrients which life really enjoyed. It was time for the Cambrian Explosion, a period of time fossil records for complex animals appeared. During this period 35 new phylum were created and they became the foundation of the types of plants and animals we see today. Phylum make up a far more complex level of categories above the one we call the Kingdoms for plants and animals, of which there are only 6. (Plants, Animals, Protists, Fungi, Archaebacteria and Eubacteria.)
A quick point on evolution, which we know already is technically very complex, but I wanted to simplify it into a handful of types for you.
‘Convergent evolution’ is where a species with a similar function or feature to that of another develops, but it evolved independently and away from one another.
‘Divergent evolution’ is where two groups of the same species evolve different traits within the groups in order to adapt for different environmental or social pressures.
‘Parallel evolution’ is where there are geographically separated groups that evolve away from one another, but still show morphological similarities.
The two ‘family events’ of evolution are: Stem Evolution, which is what happens where continental rifts form and land masses move apart, and then Crown Evolution, which is what takes place where landmasses join again and species crossbreed.
Let’s get back to the story.
Earth had yet another cold glacier period which was caused by the ripple effects of a faraway collision of a dark nebula, and its cosmic rays hit earth. There was loss of plants, reduced oxygen, and with that the death of many species. Those that did survive then had to deal with a meteorite estimated to be around 10kms+ wide in diameter, which rammed into earth and sealed the fate for just about everything else that was still alive. This is what wiped out the dinosaurs.
Mammals emerged from this disaster because they were the most resilient creatures at the time, they spent many years then evolving into a number of animal species, one of which were Primates who are believed to have first appeared around 55 million years ago. It was now time for the Humanozoic era.
Hominins (the group consisting of modern humans, politicians, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors) appeared around 6 million years ago. Over time, our brains developed and grew much larger. We learnt how to talk, we became self-aware, developed advance memory and ‘imagination’. We worked on improving ourselves throughout the Pliocene era and well into the Holocene era.
1.2million years ago, people left Africa on foot and migrated all over the World. Around 200000 years ago we could be found absolutely everywhere. 100000 years ago we started the Agricultural Revolution. 5000 years ago the trade revolution, and with that we developed cities, laws, and founded religions. Only 300 years ago the Industrial Revolution started in the United Kingdom. Around 30 years ago, the information revolution started with computers and internet, birthing Industry 4.0.
We are now heading towards a ‘unified nation period’ which will need to deal with the 6th mass extinction, something unravelling right now, and caused by our own hands. Only 23 percent of the Earth's landmass is still wilderness, we have decimated the rest. There are too many people using too much space and consuming more food and water than is sustainable. It is a disaster.
As a Future Thinker, it would be silly of me to miss the opportunity to share a quick peak into the coming years. Very soon, we will change our type of fuels. Population growth patterns will reduce as we control our own reproduction rate. The locations we inhabit will shift dramatically. Unfortunately there will be extreme food shortages and billions of refugees, a lot of hunger and illnesses. There will be political and civil unrest and we will either reduce or increase the equality gap.
Regardless, natural and man-made disasters will increase in severity and frequency, and if we finally learn our lesson (within the next 50-100 years) that we are part of an eco-system and work together as one species, we will re-prioritize and become true guardians of the planet.
We, and the rest of life, can then endure, and one day leave the planet to become a space faring species, but it might not be how we imagine, it is more probable we will send out our personal consciousness via AI onto distant planets.
As for the planet, it is predicted 200 million years later the continents on earth will join again, Co2 levels will drop, many plants and animals will die, plate tectonic movement will stop and the earth’s magnetic field will disappear. The atmosphere will dissipate and all life will die.
1.5 billion years later, the oceans will be gone and the earth’s average temperature will be around 500 degrees Celsius. 4 billion years onwards, the sun gets old, expanding so much that it consumes our dead rock of a planet. On that bleak note let me end this article.
In the next chapter I will focus on things closer to home, and talk about the 3 categories of homes in our proverbial neighbour hoods, covering the lithosphere (made of things like rock), the hydrosphere (water), the atmosphere (air) and then continue to discuss how we and our technology interact with nature.
Until we meet again in the future, use tech smartly, care for our planet and be a future thinker.
Digital Architect & Scenario Planner.
Everything Trends, Tech, Web, Iot & Strategy.
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Published December 2020Read more articles