Youngest On The Planet

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Age of earth is 4.5 billion years  but the oldest humanlike fossils are about 300 thousand years old

THE human curiosity to discover the worlds beyond the home planet Earth has also enabled us to look at our planet from a distance, which has opened doors of opportunities to explore it even further, and further. Imagine the feeling when we discovered our own image in the mirror, which helped us to look at ourselves, for the first time in human history. The work of a mirror for the Earth is usually performed by satellites, which constantly capture the images at various resolutions to map details of a planetary body. Historically, the first famous image of the Earth is known as “Blue Marble”, which was taken on Christmas Eve in 1968 by astronaut William A. Anders on the Apollo 8 mission of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA.

The stunning picture shows our home like a blue marble with blue color from water (mainly oceans), white from clouds, and the rest of the colors from land. Look at the image and feel the beauty of our only home in the vastness of the universe with a sea of galaxies, stars, planets, etc. It forces one to think about the existence of the universe, and in particular our own small family, the solar system, which is headed by the sun and has a number of planets and moons around it. It looks like a well-organized family where the sun provides fuel to light and heat the planetary bodies, and in return it seemingly gets nothing but all family members rotate and revolve around it.

This could mean that the sun is like a leader and all family members have to follow it. What will happen if any, or of all of the members stop revolving around it? Will the family structure collapse. It is likely so, at least all members will either vanish in the vastness of the cosmos or if conditions favor they may join other nearby stars, if conditions permit and favor. But the entire solar system also moves with an average velocity of 450,000 miles per hour (720,000 kilometers per hour), and it takes 230 million years to complete one cycle around the Milky Way, which is our own  galaxy, the extended family. A typical extended family will have many members, and similarly the galaxy is an enormous assemblage of gas, dust, stars and their solar systems etc. This whole system of systems is run and held together by gravity, and everything is moving in the universe including us.

Back to our tiny little home planet, the Earth, which is the only known planet where human and other forms of life can easily survive as it suits our body, and what we need to survive. A typical living being needs four things to live: air, water, food and shelter. And importantly, these are readily provided by the Earth. Inhale and feel the gaseous layer that surrounds us like a balloon, in fact we are in a balloon called the atmosphere, which is mostly composed of nitrogen and oxygen gas that is what we call air. We can’t live without it, and ironically there is little that we know about its existence on our planet, and the absence on other Earth like planets in our solar system and beyond. The layer is on all of us, poor and rich, privileged and less so.

Similarly, the vastness of hydrosphere, the sphere of water, comes into our realization when we visit an ocean, which is the other important ingredient of our life, and again, we are still trying to understand how we got it here. This sphere is also distributed differently on the entire planet, and it drives the atmospheric circulations and cloud formation, among many other tasks, which are important for our survival. Then comes the biosphere, which is the sphere of life, which mainly includes plants and animals, and this sphere is also quite heterogeneously distributed and we depend on it for our food and other needs. The shelter is provided by water and land. Life on the planet exists in water bodies (e.g. oceans, rivers, lakes etc.) and land, which have formed over the geological past, and importantly when human beings were not around.

Our civilization is 10,000 years old, and the oldest humanlike fossils are about 300 thousand years old. And in comparison to this the oldest rock is about 4.5 billion years old, which suggests that our time span and scale of existence on the planet earth is negligible if we compare it with the rocks, plants, animals etc. This means we have just arrived and we are like guests here as everything that is needed for our life to thrive has been prepared before our arrival on the blue wonderland that we call home. And chronological order of events may be more like this: first came the rocks, then atmosphere, followed by oceans and life. Humans are the youngest yet we feel we are the owners but in reality a mirror may help us to know that we are just guests, and we should behave like a good guest.

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Dr Afroz Ahmad Shah

Author is Assistant Professor in Structural Geology, Physical & Geological Sciences at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. He can be reached at: afroz.shah@ubd.edu.bn

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