Scientists have blended NASA images with geography and climate reconstructions to create an animation of the Earth as it would have appeared from space 500 million years ago. This animation, released on April 22, 2011 to celebrate Earth Day, is part of the Visible Paleo-Earth (VPE) project of Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) at the University of Puerto Rico. It’s fun to compare the Earth of 500 million years ago with today’s Earth by clicking “play” on the two videos below simultaneously.
The first video depicts the era of the late Cambrian Period when desert land masses clustered in the southern hemisphere. With melted sea ice, shores remained flooded, the warm shallows creating ideal habitats for simple plants and animals to evolve.
Researchers at PHL are using information about the early Earth to trace the evolution of geography, climate, and life. With this knowledge, they can find methods for detecting habitable planets in space, perhaps noting how such planets reflect light. Abel Mendez, manager of the PHL, said:
If we can see that light, we will be able to have an idea of the continental distribution and how much vegetation the planets have.
Bottom line: As part of the Visible Paleo-Earth (VPE) project, the Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) of the University of Puerto Rico has created an animation of Earth as seen from space 500 million years ago. PHL manager Abel Mendez says his group is using information about the early Earth as a test model to look for Earth-like planets in space.
Holly Clark Coburn is a freelance editor and writer. She studied biology and art at a liberal arts school and received an MFA in creative writing.