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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Outline the origins and subsequent diversity of life on Earth
  • Explain the ways that life and geological activity have influenced the evolution of the atmosphere
  • Describe the causes and effects of the atmospheric greenhouse effect and global warming
  • Describe the impact of human activity on our planet’s atmosphere and ecology

As far as we know, Earth seems to be the only planet in the solar system with life. The origin and development of life are an important part of our planet’s story. Life arose early in Earth’s history, and living organisms have been interacting with their environment for billions of years. We recognize that life-forms have evolved to adapt to the environment on Earth, and we are now beginning to realize that Earth itself has been changed in important ways by the presence of living matter. The study of the coevolution of life and our planet is one of the subjects of the modern science of astrobiology .

The origin of life

The record of the birth of life on Earth has been lost in the restless motions of the crust. According to chemical evidence, by the time the oldest surviving rocks were formed about 3.9 billion years ago, life already existed. At 3.5 billion years ago, life had achieved the sophistication to build large colonies called stromatolites , a form so successful that stromatolites still grow on Earth today ( [link] ). But, few rocks survive from these ancient times, and abundant fossils have been preserved only during the past 600 million years—less than 15% of our planet’s history.

Cross-sections of fossil stromatolites.

Image of Fossilized Stromatolites. In this photograph we see many dozens of irregularly shaped layers, one upon the other. These layers attest to the growth of the colony over time.
This polished cross-section of a fossilized colony of stromatolites dates to the Precambrian Era. The layered, domelike structures are mats of sediment trapped in shallow waters by large numbers of blue-green bacteria that can photosynthesize. Such colonies of microorganisms date back more than 3 billion years. (credit: James St. John)

There is little direct evidence about the actual origin of life. We know that the atmosphere of early Earth, unlike today’s, contained abundant carbon dioxide and some methane, but no oxygen gas. In the absence of oxygen, many complex chemical reactions are possible that lead to the production of amino acids, proteins, and other chemical building blocks of life. Therefore, it seems likely that these chemical building blocks were available very early in Earth’s history and they would have combined to make living organisms.

For tens of millions of years after Earth’s formation, life (perhaps little more than large molecules, like the viruses of today) probably existed in warm, nutrient-rich seas, living off accumulated organic chemicals. When this easily accessible food became depleted, life began the long evolutionary road that led to the vast numbers of different organisms on Earth today. As it did so, life began to influence the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

In addition to the study of life’s history as revealed by chemical and fossil evidence in ancient rocks, scientists use tools from the rapidly advancing fields of genetics and genomics —the study of the genetic code that is shared by all life on Earth. While each individual has a unique set of genes (which is why genetic “fingerprinting” is so useful for the study of crime), we also have many genetic traits in common. Your genome , the complete map of the DNA in your body, is identical at the 99.9% level to that of Julius Caesar or Marie Curie. At the 99% level, human and chimpanzee genomes are the same. By looking at the gene sequences of many organisms, we can determine that all life on Earth is descended from a common ancestor, and we can use the genetic variations among species as a measure of how closely different species are related.

Questions & Answers

Currently, I'm studying in 10th grade. What should I do after my 10th so that I can get an astronomy career?
Chaya Reply
try jee exam and achieve a good score in jee advance to join in IIST(Space research institute)
okay.. thanks
this famous person was the first to recognise earthshine on the moin
Rajan Reply
Leonardo Da Vinci.....
what is string theory?
sakshi Reply
A Cosmological Theory Based On The Exsistence Of Cosmic Vibrating Strings.....
Does MIT have good astrophysics courses ?
priyanshu Reply
Probably The Best In The United States.....
But Don't Get Caught Up On Who's The Best, You Can Be The Next Noble Winning Astrophysicist.....
hmmm..........that's nice one....Adam had said.....
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ? 🤔
Hussain Reply
why do you want to study ASTRONOMY?
Hussain Reply
It is one of the natural sciences and therefore worth exploring. You are a part of the universe and it is a part of you. The sky is my classroom. (student of cosmology, Oxford Uni)
because everything in the space is just beautiful...interesting and worth studying and exploring...
I have been studying astrophysics an love it
I love to learn what makes up our lives an heavens an how it works there us so much more out there than books an our veiw of thw heavens can reveal
How did ASTRONOMY helped you understand yourself ?
Because it proves the impossibles and the limitless.
It helped me realize that there are like countless possibilities in life and get all through it.
It honestly showed me to view the world in a balanced way. Because space beautiful and calm yet violent, and so is the world, and we should still help, but there will always be violent people much like violent astrophysical jets.
Does anyone know where can I study astronomy in Spain? My budget is too low for traveling out there...
Valerian Reply
How long the duration was when the laws of physics became active after the big bang?And why the time is called plank's time?
Mostak Reply
how many galaxies in universe?
Shaikh Reply
10 to the power 11
if u can count all the sands on the beaches and on the deserts then u will know how much it will be.......some said more than 1,000,000,000 galaxies are there in our universe...
it's ok bro
I hope you will become a member of nasa
just new in this area, from art background not science
what's ur name wwe
The Observable Universe Contains Between 200 Billion To 2 Trillion Galaxies.....
are u sure?
It actually hasn't been proven, people have just made estimations.
the thing is u can't count,maybe the our number system will collapse there...who knows?
What's the exact time when the laws of physics became active after the big bang ?
Actually we still don't know the exact number of galaxies in the universe, since the universe is bigger than we can imagine and it is still expanding even bigger today than yesterday
we didn't actually find the exact number but may be it is around 100 billion
why this universe is expanding?
Science Does Not Concern It Self With Why Questions, Science Is Geared For How And What Questions.....
Why Questions Form And Endless Loop.....
According to the universal law of cause and effect .any phenomenon that occur in this universe should have any reason , nothing happen without any reason.
Can you tell me the expanding speed of this universe.
yes that would be a great question to have answered what is the expanding speed of the universe?
Remember that most of what you can see is light years away. We're looking back in time, we can never know the current nature of our observations, only glimpse the galaxies and stars as they once were. Strange but true, and a little sad.
Correct, That's Why Telescopes Are Like Time Machines, You See The Past.....
really telescope can see the past?....i meant everything is in its place, though it rotates or revolve or whatever it is.......but how can this telescope can see the past.....can we see how our Universe was created,how it formed out of it? thats my question to all of you guys can you plz tell me.
Because We Dont See Any Object In Space As It Is, We See It As It Was..... Hope This Clears That Up For You.....
And One Day We Might Have A Telescope That Will Show Us The Big Bang.....
ok....... that will be nice one
ok....... that will be nice one
Travel at light speed in a spaceship at 186,000 miles every SECOND. At this speed it will take you 100,000 years just to cross our Milky Way galaxy, which is just a dot in the sky. Next stop, the Andromeda galaxy, after 2.5 million years, still in the Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, still a dot.
Pretty Much.....
there are nearly 200 million I suppose.
hi i need a telescope would you help mee
Nauman Reply
i can only advice you to go to some museum
wher is it?
but before that.......... i wanna know where are you from and from which state...and if you are nearer to that of the museum or will be able to go then.,.. i donot have any more words.
What Do Plan To Observe?
sorry . i am from asia
Check on amazon.Celeston telescopes are good for beginners.
can yoy introduce your self
can you
Asia...? from which country you belong into ...,,is it India or where?
Do You Want A Telescope With ALot Of Maintenance Or Zero Maintenance?
with alot offf
Any second hand online stores in your area? great for unused Christmas gifts etc..
So You Want A Newtonian Reflector?
hey guys I wanna ask you all that will it be safe or helpful to communicate with an intelligent civilization like are we safe ?
Is the Orion Sky Quest XT6 a good Dobsonian?
Look for a Sky Watcher 130BKS, it has an upgraded dual speed 2" focuser. You can use 1.25" or 2" eyepieces with it and it is quite easy to pollinate using a simple visual collimating eyepiece. This scope is great and ready for prime focus astrophotography if you choose to go that route.
Sorry, spell check error. Pollinate should be collimate. lol
Dobsonians Require A Lot Of Maintenance, If You Don't Mind Cleaning And Collimating On A Regular Basis, Then Go Ahead A Dobsonian Puts Up Excellent Views Especially For Deep Space Objects..... Now If You Don't Want Constant Maintenance Then A Schmidt Cassegrain Might Be A Better Fit For You.....
So what i would put for that answer ?
Abdulla Reply
The largest observatory complex in the world is on Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain on Earth. Whatare some factors astronomers consider when selecting an observatory site? Don’t forget practical ones.Should astronomers, for example, consider building an observatory on Denali (Mount McKinley) or MountEverest?
Abdulla Reply
i need help on the the second part
Should astronomers for example considered building an observatory on Denali (Mount Mckinley) or MountEverest ?
I would take into consideration. climate weather pattern.
also, could an establishment be built and be able to sustain years of being beaten by the weather?
so far Mount Everest to my understanding is a difficult mountain
it is because of light pollution in the cities that the observatories are situated in extremely remote areas.
Everest ist the tallest mountain
how far us milky way galaxy?
ShowsSpy Reply
oh man
We are part of the Milky Way Galaxy. We are within it, so it's not really away from us. Our galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. The nearest big galaxy is Andromeda, around 2 million lightyears away.
its 200,000 light years
Where is Rice University located?
Amanda Reply
it is in your vagina
that couldn't be any more wrong 😂😂
what even is this conversation😂😂!?
Show Some Class.....
Houston, Texas.....
what is the first step to take as far as getting into the field of astronomy?
john Reply
probably by being type 1or2 civilization...launching more telescopes into space...and stepping on mars. probably.
John, the first step is to want to focus a large part of your life studying, researching and investigating the universe... Including the planet we know the most about. Do well in math, physics, and chemistry, and attend a college that either owns astronomical equipment or facilities and has courses.
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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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