Earth And Its Geological Time Scale

Earth and its Geological time scale:-


Origin of the Earth:-


A large number of hypotheses were put forth by different philosophers and scientists regarding the origin of the earth. One of the earlier and popular arguments was by German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Mathematician Laplace revised it in 1796. It is known as Nebular Hypothesis. The hypothesis considered that the planets were formed out of a cloud of material associated with a youthful sun, which was slowly rotating. Later in 1900,  hamberlain and Moulton considered that a wandering star approached the sun. As a result, a cigar-shaped extension of material was separated from the solar surface. As the passing star moved away, the material separated from the solar surface continued to revolve around the sun and it slowly condensed into planets. Sir James Jeans and later Sir Harold Jeffrey supported this argument. At a later date, the arguments considered of a companion to the sun to have been coexisting. These arguments are called binary theories. In 1950, Otto Schmidt in Russia and Carl Weizascar in Germany somewhat revised the ‘nebular hypothesis’, though differing in details. They considered that the sun was surrounded by solar nebula containing mostly the hydrogen and helium along with what may be termed as dust. The friction and collision of particles led to formation of a disk-shaped cloud and the planets were formed through the process of accretion. However, scientists in later period took up the problems of origin of universe rather than that of just the earth or the planets.


Origin of the Universe:-

The most popular argument regarding the origin of the universe is the Big Bang Theory. It is also called expanding universe hypothesis. Edwin Hubble, in 1920, provided evidence that the universe is expanding. As time passes, galaxies move further and further apart. You can experiment and find what does the expanding  universe mean. Take a balloon and mark some points on it to represent the galaxies. Now, if you start inflating the balloon, the points marked on the balloon will appear to be moving away from each other as the balloon expands. Similarly, the distance between the galaxies is also found to be increasing and thereby, the universe is considered to be expanding. However, you will find that besides the increase in the distances between the points on the balloon, the points themselves are expanding. This is not in accordance with the fact. Scientists believe that though the space between the galaxies is increasing, observations do not support the expansion of galaxies. So, the balloon example is only partially correct.

The Big Bang Theory considers the following stages in the development of the universe.

(i) In the beginning, all matter forming the universe existed in one place in the form of a “tiny ball” (singular atom) with an unimaginably small volume, infinite temperature and infinite density.

(ii) At the Big Bang the “tiny ball” exploded violently. This led to a huge expansion. It is now generally accepted that the event of big bang took place 13.7 billion years before the  present. The expansion continues even to the present day. As it grew, some energy was converted into matter. There was particularly rapid expansion within fractions of a second after the bang. Thereafter, the expansion has slowed down. Within first three minutes from the Big Bang event, the first atom began to form.

(iii) Within 300,000 years from the Big Bang, temperature dropped to 4,500 K (Kelvin) and gave rise to atomic matter. The universe became transparent.

The expansion of universe means increase in space between the galaxies. An alternative to this was Hoyle’s concept of steady state. It considered the universe to be roughly the same at any point of time. However, with greater evidence becoming available about the expanding universe, scientific community at present favours argument of expanding universe.



The planet earth initially was a barren, rocky and hot object with a thin atmosphere of  hydrogen and helium. This is far from the present day picture of the earth. Hence, there must have been some events– processes, which may have caused this change from rocky, barren and hot earth to a beautiful planet with ample amount of water and conducive atmosphere favouring the existence of life. Between the 4,600 million years and the present, led to the evolution of life on the surface of the planet. The earth has a layered structure. From the  outermost end of the atmosphere to the centre of the earth, the material that exists is not  uniform. The atmospheric matter has the least density. From the surface to deeper depths, the earth’s interior has different zones and each of these contains materials with different characteristics.

Evolution of Lithosphere:-

The earth was mostly in a volatile state during its primordial stage. Due to gradual increase in density the temperature inside has increased. As a result the material inside started getting separated depending on their densities. This allowed heavier materials (like iron) to sink  towards the centre of the earth and the lighter ones to move towards the surface. With passage of time it cooled further and solidified and condensed into a smaller size. This later led to the development of the outer surface in the form of a crust. During the formation of the moon, due to the giant impact, the earth was further heated up. It is through the process of differentiation that the earth forming material got separated into different layers. Starting from the surface to the central parts, we have layers like the crust, mantle, outer core and inner core. From the crust to the core, the density of the material increases.

Evolution of Atmosphere and Hydrosphere

The present composition of earth’s atmosphere is chiefly contributed by nitrogen and oxygen. There are three stages in the evolution of the present atmosphere. The first stage is marked by the loss of primordial atmosphere. In the second stage, the hot interior of the earth contributed to the evolution of the atmosphere. Finally, the composition of the atmosphere was modified by the living world through the process of photosynthesis. The early atmosphere, with hydrogen and helium, is supposed to have been stripped off as a result of the solar winds. This happened not only in case of the earth, but also in all the terrestrial planets, which were supposed to have lost their primordial atmosphere through the impact of solar winds.  During the cooling of the earth, gases and water vapour were released from the interior solid earth. This started the evolution of the present atmosphere. The early atmosphere largely contained water vapour, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and very little of free oxygen. The process through which the gases were  outpoured from the interior is called degassing. Continuous volcanic eruptions contributed water vapour and the atmosphere. As the earth cooled, the water vapour released started getting condensed. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere got dissolved in rainwater and the temperature further decreased causing more condensation and more rains. The  rainwater falling onto the surface got collected in the depressions to give rise to oceans. The earth’s oceans were formed within 500 million years from the formation of the earth. This tells us that the oceans are as old as 4,000 million years. Sometime around 3,800 million years ago, life began to evolve. However, around 2,500-3,000 million years before the present, the process of photosynthesis got evolved. Life was confined to the oceans for a long time. Oceans began to have the contribution of oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Eventually, oceans were saturated with oxygen, and 2,000 million years ago, oxygen began to flood the atmosphere.

Origin of Life:-

The last phase in the evolution of the earth relates to the origin and evolution of life. It is undoubtedly clear that initially the earth or  even the atmosphere of the earth was not conducive for the development of life. Modern scientists refer to the origin of life as a kind  of chemical reaction, which first generated complex organic molecules and assembled them. This assemblage was such that they could duplicate themselves converting inanimate matter into living substance. The record of life that existed on this planet in different periods is found in rocks in the form of fossils. The microscopic structures closely related to the present form of blue algae have been found in geological formations much older than some 3,000 million years. It can be assumed that life began to evolve sometime 3,800 million years ago.



The earth’s radius is 6,370 km. No one can reach the centre of the earth and make observations or collect samples of the material. Under such conditions, you may wonder how scientists tell us about the earth’s interior and the type of materials that exist at such depths. Most of our knowledge about the interior of the earth is largely based on estimates and inferences. Yet, a part of the information is obtained through direct observations and analysis of materials.

Direct Sources

The most easily available solid earth material is surface rock or the rocks we get from mining areas. Gold mines in South Africa are as deep as 3 – 4 km. Going beyond this depth is not possible as it is very hot at this depth. Besides mining, scientists have taken up a number of projects to penetrate deeper depths to explore the conditions in the crustal portions. Scientists world over are working on two major projects such as “Deep Ocean Drilling Project” and “Integrated Ocean Drilling Project”. The deepest drill at Kola, in Arctic Ocean, has so far reached a depth of 12 km. This and many deep drilling projects have provided large volume of information through the analysis of materials collected at different depths.  Volcanic eruption forms another source of obtaining direct information. As and when the molten material (magma) is thrown onto the surface of the earth, during volcanic eruption it becomes available for laboratory analysis. However, it is difficult to ascertain the depth of the source of such magma.

Indirect Sources:-

Analysis of properties of matter indirectly provides information about the interior. We know through the mining activity that temperature and pressure increase with the increasing distance from the surface towards the interior in deeper depths. Moreover, it is also known that the density of the material also increases with depth. It is possible to find the rate of change of these characteristics. Knowing the total thickness of the earth, scientists have estimated the values of temperature, pressure and the density of materials at different depths. The details of these characteristics with reference to each layer of the interior are discussed later in this chapter. Another source of information are the meteors that at times reach the earth. However, it may be noted that the material that becomes available for analysis from meteors, is not from the interior of the earth. The material and the structure observed in the meteors are similar to that of the earth. They are solid bodies developed out of materials same as, or similar to, our planet. Hence, this becomes yet another source of information about the interior of the earth.

The other indirect sources include gravitation, magnetic field, and seismic activity. The gravitation force (g) is not the same at different latitudes on the surface. It is greater near the poles and less at the equator. This is because of the distance from the centre at the equator being greater than that at the poles. The gravity values also differ according to the mass of material. The uneven distribution of mass of material within the earth influences this value. The reading of the gravity at different  places is influenced by many other factors. These readings differ from the expected values. Such a difference is called gravity anomaly. Gravity anomalies give us information about the distribution of mass of the material in the crust of the earth. Magnetic surveys also provide information about the distribution of magnetic materials in the crustal portion, and thus, provide information about the distribution of materials in this part. Seismic activity is one of the most important sources of information about the interior of the earth.

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