Earth

History, Prehistory and Everything Before and After

Ours is not as bad as H.E. Bates’ Larkin’s house where there was always a TV on in every room, but the one telly we have does seem to be on a lot. Mostly, I tune it out but sometimes it worms its way past my unconscious defence.

As it did yesterday. It was showing a medieval drama, a jousting event where armoured blokes upon armoured horses charged at each other, aiming poles at the other’s delicate body parts. And at other times on foot, hacking at each other with huge broad swords. Apart from the jousting scene, you could tell it was a medieval setting because all the poor people were dressed in sackcloth and rags. A funny thing though, a lot of them were exceptionally clean shaven and had nice haircuts, and all of them had really clean faces and hands, as if they’d just taken a hot bath or shower.

To be fair, I guessed it was a semi-comedy drama. What gave it away, and what drew my attention to the telly in the first place, was during the jousting tournament the crowd were all chanting Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, and in a subsequent scene there was an incongruous electric guitar solo – not acted out in the scene, thank god, but on the soundtrack.


During the above faux historical drama, I had begun listening to another podcast about the planet Venus. Early on in our history, Venus was considered to be Earth’s twin, it being close to Earth’s size as well as being our neighbour (Mars is much smaller). It’s also most noticeable in the sky having a highly reflective atmosphere; it appears as a star. Early on, people imagined it contained life and, as it was closer to the sun, its life would be consistent with that of hot, tropical jungles.

That idea was binned once scientific evidence established how hostile its atmosphere actually is: mostly carbon dioxide and so thick, the pressure at ground level would crush a human being, and so hot it would melt lead. Mars seemed a better bet for life after that.

One of the three scientists giving account of the planet gave a short description of how planets formed around the sun, beginning with a swirling of space dust, eventually sticking together by electromagnetism and then gravity, the sun then reaching ignition point, and the residual turning forces of swirling matter making everything revolve and orbit. For Venus and Earth, the period from adhering and coagulating dust particles to a proper orbiting sphere would be around 100 million years. At that would just be the beginning.


I was thinking about my primary school and how I remembered a lot of lessons about prehistoric life. We began with fossils of trilobites and ammonites, those funny looking segmented and spirally sea creatures, then the fishes and amphibians, and eventually the rise and decline of the reptiles – dinosaurs! – and ending with a few early mammals.

It seems to me now how each of these periods in Earth’s past is a distinct portion of the Earth’s life simply because of the huge passage of time each had taken. The Earth has had many lives, so to speak. It may have many more ahead, possibly without us.

And there I was, marvelling at those significant names from England’s “Dark Ages”, and how they seem to dabble in politics and culture as much as we do, and write books about it all. And, well, yes, but it’s only 1400 years ago. Nothing in time. When we’ve barely 100 years each in which to experience existence, how inconceivable is a passing of a million years!


It’s extraordinary to me to think how Earth has sustained some form of higher life for so long, and mostly, if not all, by chance. What are the odds? Do you think we’ll come face to face with aliens from another planet? Across time and space, as vast and hostile as it appears, and to coincide with our time here?

I don’t.

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The Moon is still dark…

The moon is still dark and for a good reason. 1968. Bill Anders, the rookie astronaut of the three onboard Apollo 8, orbiting our moon, his principle duty was to photograph sites of scientific interest on the lunar surface. They had traversed the dark side of the moon, so-called not because it’s dark but unseen from an Earth’s perspective, a result of its mass relative to Earth’s, and the distance and forces between the two bodies: the moon is large enough to partner the Earth in a cosmic waltz around the Sun, face to face for eternity.

It was a disappointing voyage across the dark side, craters, ridges, plains – the usual stuff. And then it happened. As they approached the end, they saw out of their window the Earth rising out of the Moon’s horizon. A beautiful blue-green jewel gliding skywards in the black firmament. Can you imagine the emotion?

Anders camera was filled with monochrome film, and almost all frames exposed. He took a photo of the Earth emerging from the stark lunar landscape with the remaining frame, then asked for a roll of colour film. With this loaded, he took the image which easily surpassed all of those he’d taken of the moon, the real purpose of the mission, and gave the Earth not only the defining moment of the voyage but a profound sense of the glorious nature of Planet Home.

Had the Moon not been dark, had it been slightly brighter, more colourful and vibrant, the emotional response would have been much less, possibly unremarkable. But it was dark, and the Earth shone brilliantly. And the moon is dark still.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #62 – “The Moon is still dark…”

Earthrise (1968)

There was some controversy about which of the three astronauts – Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell – had taken the defining image. While it was Anders’ job to take specific pictures of scientific interest to a set programme, Borman adamantly remembers taking that particular photo himself. He had used the camera at another time to take an unscheduled “tourist” snap and the fallibility of memory under the force of emotion probably had him mixed up. Even Lovell jokingly got in on the act by joshing everyone how he took the photo. But it was more likely Anders, as mission control voice recordings suggest.