Birth of the Planet

2008, Science  -  48 min Leave a Comment
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In this first episode of Catastrophe series, host Tony Robinson speaks with planetary experts, archaeologists and paleontologists to understand one of our solar system's first great disasters and its most notable outcome: the emergence of our Moon and oceans and their roles in enabling life on Earth.

In the early stages of our solar system's development, Earth had a twin planet that shared its orbit around the sun. According to Planetary Scientist William K. Hartman when this planet, Thea, ultimately collided with Earth it destroyed itself and created a ring of debris around its sister planet. This ring of debris eventually settled, leaving behind the lunar body we now know as our Moon. Astrophysicist Robin Canup speaks in support of this theory, providing evidence in the form of computer models, which show how a planetary impact very likely created the Moon. It was also around this time the developing Earth's surface was struck by icy comets, in turn creating the world's first oceans.

Paleontologist Judith Nagel-Myers presents fossilized corals found in Ithaca, NY, which indicate the moon was once ten times closer to the Earth's surface. The strength of its gravitational pull resulted in massive tides that spread water across the planet, pulling in a combination of minerals and nutrients that created a "primordial soup" and gave way to the proteins and amino acids necessary for the emergence of life. An Earth-Moon "waltz" was set into motion, with the Moon continuing to influence tides as it slowly spins away from Earth even to this day. As cyanobacteria began to develop in the Earth's waters photosynthesis developed, introducing oxygen to the oceans and atmosphere and eventually giving way to the evolution of complex life forms.

As one subject notes, "A catastrophe is always, in some respect, a beginning." The sheer scope of chance that was at play in our creation is presented here with a sense of awe and great respect. Catastrophe: Birth of the Planet is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in this documentary series concerning the arbitrary and brutal events that paved the way for modern life.