Paleo – A Tale of Ages

Once upon a time, there was a ball of molten rock, orbiting a small star in one arm of a galaxy that resembles many of the millions of galaxies that fill the universe.

Our best guess is that our tiny solar system is between 26 to 28 thousand light years from the centre of our galaxy. It would take a light beam this amount of time to reach us from the Galactic Centre. Our solar system, located in what is known as the Orion Arm of our galaxy, rotates around this Galactic Centre. The Galactic Year is the time it takes us to complete one complete orbit. This is believed to be between 200 and 250 million of our Earth years.

PALEO – A TALE OF AGES, is the story of a tiny planet known with affection as Gaia to some of her inhabitants. She formed as she orbited her Sun, who was much younger in those days. We will begin our tale some 4.5 billion years ago (4500 million years). We will follow Gaia’s journey through periods of intense heat, and through periods of intense cold. From Snowball Earth, to our Blue Planet, Gaia has changed and transformed herself again and again. During this time, extraordinary creatures swam in her oceans, and have walked upon her continents. Amazing plants have grown up transforming not only Gaia, but her atmosphere too.

This book for children, and maybe adults too, takes us on a journey through time… Each double page will focus on an event or geological era. This book will be serialised, with a new double-page to appear every week over the next six months. When it is complete, it will be available to purchase from this website as a digital book.

Let us take a deep breath then, and return to the ancient times. Hush! For it is now 4.5 billion years ago, and on the Orion arm of our galaxy, a new Earth is being born…

C H A P T E R  O N E

A long, long time ago, in fact, around 4.6 billion years to be precise – a vast molecular cloud of gas and dust collapsed under the force of gravity. This led to the formation of our Sun and a swirling disk around it. This “solar nebula”, consisting of elements such as hydrogen and helium, spun upon its axis. There were traces of heavier elements too, like carbon, oxygen, and iron. As these tiny specks collided and stuck together, they formed larger particles. Known as planetesimals, these ranged in size from a few centimetres to kilometres. Collisions between them took place too, and little by little they grew and grew through a process called accretion. Over time these became known as protoplanets.

With time, these protoplanets grew larger and larger. And as they did so, they began to heat. Between radioactive decay on the one hand and gravitational compression on the other, the interiors of these protoplanets finally melted, causing the heavier elements such as iron and nickel to sink towards the centre, forming a dense metallic core. The lighter components migrated towards the surface. This process took place over millions of years before Gaia was fully formed. But traces today remain in her core, her mantle, and her crust.

 

C H A P T E R  T W O

During the early stages of Gaia’s formation, our solar system experienced a period of intense bombardment from outer space. The Late Heavy Bombardment is thought to have occurred between 4.1 to 3.8 billion years ago. During this period, debris from the formation of the solar system bombarded the inner planets, including Gaia. This bombardment likely transformed her surface and her atmosphere – bringing in water and organic compounds.

Before this, however – and one of the most significant events in Gaia’s creation – was the formation of our Moon. Some believe that “Theia”, a proto-planet the size of the planet Mars collided with Gaia. This impact caused a mass of debris to fly up into orbit around Earth. This eventually coalesced to form our Moon. This event not only contributed to the formation of the Moon but as we shall see, would have profound effects on the evolution and the climate of Gaia 

 

C H A P T E R   T H R E E

From the time of Gaia’s formation to the earliest rocks, we span a period of some 600 million years – the same time as from the Cambrian to the present day. Geologists refer to this period as the Hadean, named after Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, because it was so fiery.

If the earth formed 4.6 billion years ago, about 40 million years later, Theia collided with Gaia, forming our planet and the Moon. It then took Gaia 100 million years to form her rocky Basaltic crust. By 4.4 Billion years ago, there was not only a crust but there was water too.

How do we know there was water? Ancient minerals called zircons have been found in the rocks in the Jack Hills in Australia. More than half of the ancient zircons which have been tested, reveal the presence of water from a range of different environments. Some contain signs of rocks weathered by water to form clay. Others suggest dissolved crystalline minerals which form rocks in lakes or oceans. Others suggest water reacting with rocks rich in iron and magnesium.

Where did this water come from? Comets, it is believed, brought water from afar to the Earth.

So what is the Hadean? An Earth with volcanoes, oceans, and an early Moon – Gaia’s sister. There is no life that we know of as yet. Just a cooling planet. But one that is already evolving…

 

Copyright all Images and Text © 2024 Peter Jeffs. All rights reserved 


If you have enjoyed this, please visit our Pale Blue Dot Fiction page, to discover more work by ecological writers and artists, Irene Isis, and myself, Pete Jeffs. Our next instalment will be in one week!