New fascination with Earth's 'Boring Billion' | Science News


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New fascination with Earth's 'Boring Billion'

1.8 billion years ago, low oxygen may not have hindered life after all

1:08pm, October 30, 2015
Nuna supercontinent

DULLSVILLE  Earth’s environment stagnated around 1.8 billion years ago. The breakup of the Nuna supercontinent, illustrated here during its disassembly 1.38 billion years ago, should have triggered an ice age but didn’t.

Earth’s long history starts with an epic preamble: A collision with a Mars-sized space rock rips into the young planet and jettisons debris that forms the moon. Over the next few billion years, plot twists abound. The oceans form. Life appears. Solar-powered microbes breathe oxygen into the air. Colossal environmental shifts reshape the planet’s surface and drive the evolution of early life.

After this wild youth of rapid change, things slowed down. About 1.8 billion years ago, the climate stabilized. Oxygen levels steadied. Evolution seemingly stalled. For around a billion years, not a lot changed on planet Earth. Scientists called this interval the dullest time in Earth’s history. It came to be known as the “boring billion.”

But scientists are taking a fresh look at the boring billion and coming up with very different, downright fascinating, alternatives.

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