When life began there were no Baily’s beads

This is the last (currently) of some articles I intended as a connected series. If you have the time, you may appreciate visiting the others first (assuming you haven’t already):

  1. We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself
  2. Asking the right questions
  3. Total solar eclipse: coincidence?
  4. The Antikythera mechanism

This is part 5: When life began there were no Baily’s beads.


I suggested recently that the total solar eclipse may have been responsible for instigating intelligent life on our planet, but, at the time, I hadn’t looked that closely at the numbers.

Life began on our planet some 4.25 billion years ago. This was approximately a quarter of a billion years after our moon was formed — assuming that the ‘giant-impact hypothesis‘ is correct, that is.

The window in which a ‘total solar eclipse’ can be seen from the Earth is about 100 million years. We’re halfway through that span; in about 50 million years, the Moon will have retreated so far from us that it will be too small in the sky to completely eclipse the Sun.

Life timeline, 4.5 billion years ago to now

Click to embiggen

Were we to consider the proportion of time the solar eclipse ‘window’ has been available to all life on our planet to this point, we’re looking at about 1:100; ie a total solar eclipse has only been visible (assuming something existed to see it!) for one hundredth of the time that life has existed.

But we have to narrow the field somewhat; limit it to land life only (I think it’s fair to assume that simple multicellular life would be incapable of appreciating the heavens!). Life crawled from the seas less than 500 million years ago (see the ‘life timeline’ on the right). This brings the ratio down to 1:10.

The land life around for nine-tenths of this period would not have been able to experience a total solar eclipse; the moon was simply too big in the sky.

Human timeline, 10 million years ago to the present

Click to embiggen

As Scientific American puts it:

It is very likely that a scientifically minded Tyrannosaurus Rex never got to see the circle of fire, or Bailey’s [sic] Beads in an eclipse.

The ‘human timeline’ on the left shows that most of the advances our species has made have been within about the last two million years; a total solar eclipse will have been available to us throughout this entire period.

Imagine being one of those early humans, standing on some long-ago plain, and experiencing the wonder of a total eclipse; wouldn’t it make you stop and think that maybe those all-too-familiar lights in the sky were something more?

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Education, History, Phlyarology, Science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to When life began there were no Baily’s beads

  1. I am sure those wonderful lights in the sky hold something more also my friend. The How, the When, will we humans ever know.. We are mere grains of sand here on earth, but a spec in the cosmos of knowledge. We will all keep searching for the answers.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Alagan says:

    If I were a early human – I wonder whether I would have the faculties to discern or would merely howl and cower at what would seem like a terrifying event.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bernard25 says:

    Bonjour ou bonsoir ami
    Je passe avec un cocktail d’amitié
    Pour que l’on puisse trinquer ensemble

    Avec un velouté de bonne santé
    Que l’on puisse le partager
    Ainsi qu’une poêlée de gentillesse
    Avec beaucoup de tendresse
    Pourquoi pas pour accompagnement
    Un plateau de douceur en chocolat

    Pour adoucir ta soirée ou ta journée

    Belle journée ou fin de journée

    Bisous Bernard

    Liked by 1 person

  4. anehaaa says:

    Words though ❤️

    Like

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