Random Facts About … the Age of the Universe as a Cosmic Calendar


By David Martin – 

When we opened our internet tubes this week, something came out that made us think, “Wow.” Inspired by Carl Sagan, a noted astronomer who appeared frequently on television and who died in 1996, the cosmic calendar compresses the entire 14-billion-year history of the universe into a single calendar year. 

In this scheme, the universe is born with the Big Bang at one second of the new year, and the cosmic year ends with current time, now, which is on the last second of the year. With the entire lifespan of the universe taking place over one year and knowing how long it took for solar systems and planets to form, you might think (if you’re as dense as we are) that dinosaurs didn’t appear on Earth until late in the year. Maybe around Halloween. Duh. Dinosaurs don’t appear on the cosmic calendar until Christmas. And the first humans don’t appear until New Year’s Eve, 10 minutes before the ball drops to end the year. 

What was going on with the universe before all this excitement in the last month of the cosmic calendar? Most of the time was spent with the universe forming into what it is today. The first stars came into existence on Jan. 3 and our galaxy formed in the last week in January. Then it wasn’t until Sept. 9 that our solar system was in operation. About a week later, the Earth solidified into a planet. By the way, those dinosaurs who appeared on Earth at Christmas? They get wiped out by a comet a week later. 

But what about us? On the morning of the last day of the year, tailless apes evolved, splitting off from old world monkeys. Throughout the day, various primates evolve until around 8 p.m. that last day of the year, a great ape species splits off from chimpanzees and bonobos to form … wait for it … us! Well, eventually. Several early human versions were tried out and went extinct. Then, just before 11:50 on the last day, the modern human appeared on Earth. 

Everything we know about human history occurred in the final seconds of the cosmic calendar. Eric Siegal, of Forbes magazine, explains it this way: “20 seconds before midnight, the first walled cities arise, with populations exceeding 1,000 humans. 12 seconds before midnight, the wheel, numbers, and writing are invented. 9 seconds to midnight, metal working and the bronze age arrive.” And the moon landing occurred with a tenth of a second left in the year. 

But if you want to feel even humbler, consider your own lifetime within the context of a universe that has existed for 14 billion years and will likely continue for billions of more years. Your time in that universe can’t even be quantified, it’s so small. The ride is unbelievably short … enjoy it!

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