In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

The universe in a year

The ChronoZoom project is pretty cool. It shows you a graphical timeline of the entire history of the universe. You can zoom in on the interesting parts to see more and more detail. As it stands right now, there isn’t a huge amount of detail to see, but the project is still in beta so I expect that will change. The only weakness I see is that when you zoom in, you lose the overall scale of the part you’re looking at relative to the whole, and this gets worse as you continue to zoom. Still, it’s wicked cool.

It reminds me of another way to conceptualize the age of the universe in comparison to the events we know, and it doesn’t suffer from losing the overall scale in the same way as ChronoZoom. I believe I read it in a Carl Sagan book, but I haven’t been able to find it. What he did was compress the entire 13.7 billion year history of the universe to a single year. Thus, the big bang occurred on January 1 at 00:00:00 and today is 24:00:00 on December 31.

While I can’t find that text, I figured that it couldn’t be too hard to figure out the means to do it myself. With that in mind, I present you with this timeline:

  • The big bang occurs on January 1 at 00:00
  • The Milky Way galaxy forms on January 14
  • The sun first ignites on August 30
  • The Earth forms on September 1
  • The oldest discovered rock forms on September 15
  • Single cell life appears on September 23
  • The oldest discovered fossil is laid down on October 1
  • Multi-cellular life appears on November 15
  • The earliest land plants appear on December 19
  • Dinosaurs appear on December 24, around 9:30 PM
  • Mammals appear on December 25, at 4:34 PM
  • Dinosaurs disappear on December 30, around 6:30 AM

Everything after this point occurs on December 31

  • Earliest known hominid (Great Ape) appears 7:32 PM
  • Human and Chimpanzee lineage splits over time between 8:03 PM and 9:04 PM
  • Early humans first use stone tools at 10:51 PM
  • Neanderthals appear sometime between 11:37 PM and 11:46 PM
  • Modern humans appear between 11:52:21 PM and 11:54:16 PM
  • Humans first migrate out of Africa at 11:57:42 PM
  • Earliest known cave art is painted at 11:58:47
  • Neanderthals disappear at 11:58:52 PM
  • Plant and animal domestication begins at 11:59:47 PM
  • Recorded history begins when writing is invented at 11:59:46 PM
  • The bronze age begins at 11:59:46 PM
  • The iron age begins at 11:59:53 PM
  • Julius Caesar captures Rome at 11:59:55.28 PM, turning the Republic into a dictatorship
  • Christopher Columbus arrives in the Americas at 11:59:58.81 PM
  • Leonardo DaVinci finishes the Mona Lisa at 11:59:58.85 PM
  • The United States declares independence at 11:59:59.46 PM, though the British fight for another 0.0115 seconds before giving up
  • Confederation of Canada at 11:59:59.67 PM
  • The Titanic sinks at 11:59:59.77 PM
  • World War II ends at 11:59:59.85 PM
  • Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon at 11:59:59.90 PM
  • The Berlin Wall falls at 11:59:59.95 PM
  • December 31, 24:00:00.00 — I post this entry.

What I like about this thought experiment is how easy it is to see the relative position of events, and their durations. For example, the dinosaurs were around for far longer than we’ve been, comparing their six days with our six to eight minutes. And all of our remarkable and embarrassing history begins only 14 seconds before midnight of the last day. Saying that recorded history encompasses the last 4000 of 13.7 billion years makes it sound really short in comparison, but the last 14 seconds of a whole year gives a far more comprehensible idea of exactly how big the difference really is.

I love stuff like this!

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2 Comments

  1. Dee

    Thanks, Rick! That is a really useful way to bring perspective to it.

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