The Very Beginning: Origin of the Universe, the Early Earth & Life (September 4-8)

We’ll start the week finishing the biological basis of evolution, and then work into physical origins. Please review the links from last week, especially on DNA.

Here’s a cool YouTube video of the “known universe” produced by the American Museum of Natural History. This puts us in our place (cosmically!) and demonstrates the awesome dimensions of this week’s topic. I also enjoy this digital atlas of the Universe from the Hayden Planetarium. It is a significant download, but very nice. Here is a great interactive website on the Scale of the Universe. These sites give us perspective.

NASA has an excellent website on cosmology. For those of you looking for a simple red shift explanation, click away on this colorless but useful PBS webpage. It even has exercises you can try. There is a nice Big Bang animation on this French website; I may use it in class (despite the French).

This star formation site is easy to follow and understand (more or less). The JPL-NASA Solar System site has the latest news and fantastic images. The NASA Mars Mission webpages are, of course, incredible. This webpage from NOVA has superb animations of the “Big Whack” hypothesis for the origin of the Moon. This Moon-formation video on YouTube is also excellent, although the music could be improved.

Here is the homepage of NASA’s “Stardust” project, which brought to Earth the “dust” of a comet. Now you know the importance of this study to our ideas about the origin of the solar system because comets are samples of the original solar nebula.

Now for the complex and contentious ideas about the origin of life. The elaborate and elegant Exploring Life’s Origins website from the Museum of Science in Boston is the best on the topic. Here’s a good animated Miller-Urey experiment webpage I may use in class.

If you are interested in being on the e-mailing list for the Department of Geology, please send me a note (mwilson). You will receive departmental announcements about upcoming lectures, picnics, field trips, and internship opportunities.

Bivalves and brachiopods in the Logan Formation (Lower Carboniferous) of Wooster, Ohio.

Ancient marine bivalves and brachiopods in the Logan Formation (Lower Carboniferous) of Wooster, Ohio.

Geology in the News –

The largest specimen of Ichthyosaurus has been found in a German museum. It is three meters from snout to tip of tail. It is a pregnant female and a cool specimen. No paleontologist calls them “sea dragons” by the way.

A new Devonian fish found in northern China is challenging the current model for the origin of amphibians (so essentially us as well). I don’t yet fully understand how it fits in, so I’m reserving judgement until I know more.

Good review of a new book on extinctions: The Ends of the Earth. Sounds like it is well-written, up-to-date, and topical seeing how climate change is the root of most of our catastrophes.

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