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Solar System & Earth

4,567,000,000 years ago our solar system begins to form in the outer Orion spiral arm of the Milky Way.


Our Sun lies between 25,000 and 28,000 light years (the distance it takes light to travel over one year) from the centre of the galaxy, which is about 100,000 light years wide. Our solar system moves at 220 kilometers per second, taking almost 250 million years for a round trip or one ‘galactic’ year. This means that on the galactic scale, the solar system is 18 galactic years old and life itself 16 years. Hominids are just 12 days old.


Our sun forms out of the gradual collapse of a giant molecular cloud many light years across. As it collapses it begins to spin and the centre becomes denser and denser, hotter and hotter and within 50 million years the the pressure on the hydrogen becomes great enough to start  thermonuclear fusion and the sun shines.

4.54 billion years ago, or 10-20,000,000 years after the sun starts to shine, the dust which does not get sucked into the sun flattens out into a disc and lumps together to become the planets.

The earth (old English eorþe “ground, soil, dry land,” also used (along with middangeard) for the (material) world (as opposed to the heavens or the underworld), from Proto-Germanic. *ertho from Proto-Indo-European root *er-  “earth, ground”) is born.

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The Observable Universe

Before we follow the evolution of the universe, then the solar system and the earth, with life appearing and eventually becoming us, let’s pause for a moment and look at the bigger picture.

Think of a glass sphere two meters in diameter, something which would cover your field of view should you stand close to it. All the known galaxies are inside it, indicated by 170,000,000,000 tiny little dots, one 10th of a millimeter across. It would look like a snow globe with very, very small specs of snow.

At the time of writing I am working to build such a sculpture, 2 meters in diameter using rapid prototyping techniques to indicate the 400,000 galaxies as have mapped. The project will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and will be funded through crowed sourcing on the internet, perhaps through So far it’s been difficult finding manufacturers for this job even at such a high budget.

The dots indicating the galaxies would be featureless tiny little dots, so very tiny, but here is the kicker:

The 2 meter diameter globe is 465,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 to 1 scale.

As will be described on the plinth it will be displayed on: At this scale our milky way galaxy is in reality 0.000,215 millimeters in diameter but the smallest detail the manufacturing can present with current technology is 0.1 millimeters so the dots in the sphere will be 500 times larger than the galaxies actually are  – to see a galaxy in the size of a 10th of a millimeter dot the sculpture would need to be a kilometer in diameter.

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A Universe Of Potential

13,700,000,000 years ago the universe comes into being when the arrow of time, hurled with energy and velocity from no-time and no-space, expanding into time and space.

There is no going back. From pure energy to all there is today, the universe gets more complicated one Planck moment (from our current understanding of physics the smallest, theoretically, measurably amount of time is 3.3 x 10-44 seconds, or 1 unite of Planck’s time. That’s 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000033 seconds) at a time.

A few fractions of a second later the first subatomic particles emerge – electrons and quarks – and they combine into pairs and triplets forming larger particles including protons and neutrons which are still within every atomic nucleus today – all within the first second. For the next few hundreds of thousands of years everything is awash with energy and raw potential.

Three minutes later temperatures cool from 10^32 degrees Kelvin to 10^9 degrees and protons and neutrons collide to make deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen (about 75% of the mass in the universe is still hydrogen, the lightest element). Most of the deuterium combines to make helium and trace amounts of lithium. Interactions and relationships have been with us from the very start. Howard Bloom, in Global Brain, reminds us:

“The instant of creation marked the dawn of sociality. A neutron is a particle filled with need. It is unable to sustain itself for longer than 10 minutes. To survive it must find at least one mate, then form a family. The initial three minutes of existence were spent in cosmological courting, as protons paired off with neutrons, then rapidly attracted another couple to wed within their embrace, forming the two-proton, two neutron quartet of a helium nucleus. Those neutrons which managed this match gained relative immortality. Those which stayed single simply ceased to be. The rule at the heart of a learning machine was already being obeyed: ‘To he who hath it shall be given. From he who hath not even what he hath shall be taken away’”.

Howard Bloom

Perhaps interactions and ‘sociality’ has been with us even longer than to an imagined point of zero time. Maybe there never was a clear before the universe and birth of the universe moment. Few things are as simple as black and white, on or off, nothing then everything. Maybe the universe came into being dynamically, alive, from the very start. Remember, the world behaves differently on the quantum scale and in the beginning it was all quantum. Stephen Hawking and James Hartle had this (and let’s give them credit for coming up with what you probably think is pretty obvious now that you read it here) realization and follows the logic through. From a discussion of their theory in New Scientist June 2012:

“In quantum physics, when a particle travels from A to B it doesn’t take a single path but can pass along two or more paths simultaneously, interfering with itself at the other end as if it were a wave. To find out which path we are most likely to observe, we must add together the quantum-mechanical ‘wave functions’ encoding each possible path, working out how their individual peaks and troughs cancel and amplify each other. Encoded within this total wave function is everything we need to know about the quantum particle at B, including the probabilities for the outcomes of any measurement we choose to make. Hawking and Hartle argued that a similar approach could be applied to the universe as a whole.”
New Scientist, 30 June 2012

The universe didn’t flash into existence, it came into being as an all-encompassing, interactive, quantum wave…

380,000 years later radiation and matter separates.

5,000,000 years later and the universe finally starts to cool enough to allow atoms to form, over 90 % of which are hydrogen, with a few percent of helium and some lithium. Nothing else, nothing. These would be the founding elements of all there is. To realize their full potential and build further complexity they would needed to cook in the furnace of the stars they would form when they clustered together.

The universe is getting more complicated, more interactive and much more interesting.

Let There Be Light

100,000,000 years after the big bang, out of a vacuum unimaginably empty, even less dense than what we can make here on earth, a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion molecules, predominantly hydrogen, attract each other in vast molecular clouds.

By sheer strength of numbers their character changes and their mutually reinforced attractions eventually reach temperatures of millions of degrees and pressures at the core millions of atmospheres, the first stars begin to light up the cosmos. 

(The word ‘star’ has very long history itself, in human terms, going all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, some 6,000 years ago, as the root ‘ster’.)


Over 13,000,000,000 years ago, stars and space dust start to cluster into giant galaxies (‘galaxy’ comes from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), meaning “milky”), including our own Milky Way Galaxy, a barred spiral galaxy (a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars) with a diameter of about 100,000 light-years containing around 200,000,000,000 stars.


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