Over the course of 2015, I tweeted and blogged the history of the universe, all 13.8 billion years from the Big Bang to the end of the year. (Check out Twitter for Doug Jones (@logarithmic_h) or https://twitter.com/logarithmic_h/. My professional website – I’m an anthropologist at the University of Utah – is here.) I did it again in 2016, and 2017, and in 2018 I’m doing it again, mostly recycling old material, but adding some new things as well.
What is Logarithmic History?
Compressing the history of the universe into one year is not a new idea: both Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson did it. What’s different about the version here? The earlier work uses a linear scale, dividing the age of the universe by the number of days in a year, so that every calendar day covers a constant 37.8 million years in the history of the universe. This is useful for dramatizing just how long “billions and billions” of years really is. But it means that most of the events that people are most interested in – including all of the evolution of biological and cultural complexity – happen late in the year. The Earth forms in early September. Dinosaurs go extinct on December 30, and all of human evolution and human history happen late on December 31.
At Logarithmic History, by contrast, I use a logarithmic scale. Other folks have proposed putting the history of the universe on a logarithmic scale; here I map that scale onto the course of one year. If you’re a bit hazy about logarithms, all you have to know is that each day of the year covers a shorter period in the history of the universe than the preceding day (5.46% shorter). January 1 begins with the Big Bang and covers a full 754 million years. January 2 covers the next 712 million years, and so on. Succeeding days cover shorter and shorter succeeding intervals in the history of the universe. At this rate, a given calendar date covers only a tenth as much time as a date 41 days earlier.
On this logarithmic scale, Earth is formed on January 20, trilobites arise toward the end of February, and dinosaurs meet their doom on April 6. The middle of the year finds Homo erectus giving way to early versions of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. October begins with King David and ends with Columbus. By December 7, we reach the year of the Beatles’ first LP (1963). December 31 covers just one year, 2017; calendar time and history-of-the-universe time finally coincide at midnight.
Many of the world’s religions follow a yearly calendar of sacred days; many nations have their annual holidays. Logarithmic History is a chance to celebrate, over the course of a year, our species’ discovery of the deep history of the universe. If this takes off, perhaps it will give us some new holidays. So buy flowers for someone special on March 18 (the first flowering plants). Have some homemade bread on September 9 (the first farmers in the Fertile Crescent). Or … any suggestions?
|January 1||13.8 Bya (billion years ago)|
|February 1||2.4 Bya|
|March 1||500 Mya (million years ago)|
|April 1||88 Mya|
|May 1||16 Mya|
|June 1||2.9 Mya|
|July 1||530 kya (thousand years ago)|
|August 1||93 kya|
|September 1||16 kya|
|October 1||998 BCE|
|November 1||1504 CE|
|December 1||1937 CE|