Segments in this Video

Introduction: Life's Rocky Start (04:12)


Rocks and minerals are civilization’s building blocks, and can also reveal life's origins. See a Marrakesh marketplace illustrating biodiversity forming from a once lifeless Earth. Robert Hazen discusses rocks’ evolutionary role.

Stage Black (04:54)

Earth's formation began 4.5 billion years ago; Hazen discusses six stages of its evolution; the first phase is characterized by a cooling, blackened crust. Hazen purchases 4.6 billion-year-old meteorites at a Moroccan market; similar rocks collided to build solar orbiting planets. Volcanic activity created a hostile environment, covered in basalt.

Stage Gray (03:39)

Rocks are formed mostly of mineral crystals with chemical and physical properties; they are the source of technology and civilization building elements. See magnified cross sections of peridotite and basalt. Earth forming meteorites had 250 minerals; pressure and heat created various more, changing the planet's color to granite gray and creating the foundations of continents.

Stage Blue (05:48)

Hazen explains the role of water in life's evolution. He samples rocks in Pilbara for embedded zircon study; analysis reveals conditions and age of development; the 4.3 billion year crystals could only form in liquid water. John Valley discusses the possibilities of early life emergence.

Shallow Pond (05:16)

In the early 1950s, Stanley Miller recreated early Earth’s environment; see Jeffrey Bada reconstruct the experiment stimulated by an electric spark. Energy breaks down gas and water molecules, allowing for more chemical reactions; electrodes become coated with organic compounds; amino acids create proteins, organic building materials.

Deep Sea Vents (03:57)

Discovery of life thriving off chemical energy emitted by hydrothermal vents inspires new theories for early evolution. Hazen attempts to recreate conditions using pressure bombs; they were successful after adding minerals; their atoms reform into organic molecules.

Gungy Study (03:16)

Peter Coveney studies mud using computer simulation tracing atomic movement of clay; its layers are filled with water and other molecules. Hazen explains the importance of surface minerals providing ingredients for life-essential chemical reactions.

Ancient Remnants (04:36)

Martin Van Kranendonk and Hazen search for fossilized stromatolites in Australia preserved in 3.4 billion year rocks formally forming sea floor. At Shark Bay, David Flannery studies the microbial built layered structures; their surface is alive, capturing minerals and sand for mound construction. They discover the oldest fossilized life, explaining that simpler forms preceded it.

Oldest Indications (02:44)

Geologist Ruth Blake analyzes chemical signatures left by microbes and bacteria; see the lab process of dissolving and studying rocks. All life consumes nutrients, producing a footprint; she discovers evidence dating 3.8 billion years.

Stage Red (04:39)

Ocean microbes evolved photosynthesis, rusting iron-rich waters, turning Earth red, and creating new minerals. Hazen explores Hamersley Basin; he explains how the addition of oxygen led to a fundamental change of planet chemistry. Meteorites began with 250 minerals; now there are 5000, theorized to be the product of respired oxygen.

Stage White (01:58)

Life was nearly wiped out by frozen conditions; volcanic carbon dioxide created a Greenhouse Effect, melting ice and creating more oxygen. Conditions allowed for evolution of larger animals and mass biodiversity.

Evolutionary Advantages (03:10)

Hazen and Adam Aronson search for trilobite fossils in the Anti Atlas Mountains, explaining that the valley was once ocean, teeming with life. The early organisms evolved calcium carbonate shells, forming defensive rock.

Stage Green (03:48)

Life's existence depends on minerals; shells and bones are evidence of organic organisms co-opting them; Hazen discusses their overlapping nature with living beings. He explores Chesapeake Bay coastline, finding 18 million year old shark teeth created by minerals. The planet constantly transforms by organic and rock evolutionary processes.

Credits: Life's Rocky Start (01:09)

Credits: Life's Rocky Start

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Life's Rocky Start

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NOVA joins mineralogist Robert Hazen as he journeys around the globe. From an ancient Moroccan market to the Australian Outback, he advances a startling and counterintuitive idea—that the rocks beneath our feet were not only essential to jump-starting life, but that microbial life helped give birth to hundreds of minerals we know and depend on today.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: FPT169122

Copyright date: ©2016

Closed Captioned

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