Prepping for the blizzard during the Eoarchean

Spoke at a school outside of Washington DC this morning, and barely hooked the last train back to Boston, which left the Capitol at noon; all other trains have been cancelled due to the impending storm. Now rattling along northwards, the train cuts through the whitening world like a plane through clouds. Humans are talking about storm surges, dry Januaries, all-wheel-drive, and conspiracy theories. All along the tracks, trees have been preemptively cut down. I’m considering a cup of tea once we reach New Haven. 

 It is the world in the gathering snow. 

It is the world in the gathering snow. 

In Earth time, we’re 3.7 billion years before the present, and the first signs of life are appearing — possibly. The evidence is shaky. Here’s the deal, as best I understand it. Photosynthesizing organisms prefer lighter isotopes of carbon as they pluck it from the atmosphere. So in the rock record, low levels of the heavier carbon isotopes (correspondingly enriched in Carbon-12) might indicate that something was alive in there. Trouble is, by the time scientists start poking around in these rocks, on an island off of southwestern Greenland, the rocks will have had lots of time to warp and metamorphose over the years, so heaven knows. 

All in all these are hazy days in the Archaean. Oh, did I mention we made it into a new Eon? The Late Heavy Bombardment ushered us in. It’s the Eoarchean Era, at least for a few days, by which I mean a few hundred million years. There’s no oxygen to speak of in the atmosphere, but the earth has a solid crust. Probably still some lava flowing here and there. 

 Cell phone picture of the Eoarchean Earth. 

Cell phone picture of the Eoarchean Earth. 

The other night, as I flew home from the west, I watched orange cities float on the black landscape, and if I squinted my eyes a bit, letting everything go blurry, I could imagine that the cities were glowing lava bubbling through the dark crust of the land. 

Tonight, a big blizzard hits the northeast. Amanda has stocked up on flashlights and candles, but if the world goes dark I think we might just let it go dark, peer through the wind at the frozen city, and wonder if the sun will rise.