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[Vaudeville music]
The structure
of the universe
lays a-a roadmap and a template for us to-to think about
how life has evolved.
Um, life itself is
made out of the same stardust
that everything else
is made out of,
and so it's part of a continuum,
and therefore
one without the other
you-you can't really understand the context of-
of the structure of life
and the history of life.
So, [clears throat]
let's just visit briefly
what we know about
our solar system
and-and how it-
the structure has come to be.
The first thing is that
we know that there's a-
a good recent TV show called
"The Third Rock from the Sun,"
and so we do live
on the third rock,
but as we look at
the structure in the universe,
we now have eight planets, instead of nine.
Uh, poor Pluto, uh,
was the last planet.
It was, uh,
kicked off the list
because it wasn't big
and bad and tough and-
and in the right orbit
en-enough, uh, to be, uh,
remain as a planet.
[clears throat]
So we have eight planets,
and the way that the,
uh, we view that-
that, uh, universal
solar system structure
is it's pretty simple,
it's broken into a couple parts.
One are, uh, we have a-a series
of four planets, um,
that are, uh, the closest
to-to the sun,
and we call those the terrestrial, or rocky planets,
and those planets include Mercury,
Venus, Earth,
and a very well-known planet, Mars.
So the-the inner terrestrial
rocky planets,
and they call them that
because they are hard,
they're solid, they're rocky,
and they're relatively small compared to the other planets.
Then the other
s-group of planets
that go outward from there,
the other four planets,
we call them
the-the giant gas planets,
or the Jovian planets,
and these are
significantly larger,
uh, many times larger
than the inner rocky planets,
and they have a-an inner rock, uh, metal core
in the-in the center, but the-
the vast majority of the planet
are all of these
circulating seas, if you will,
of-of gases that are
swirling and rotating around
this very relatively small core.
And the ones that make up
that group are Jupiter, Saturn,
uh, Uranus, uh, and Neptune.
Uh, again, Pluto's
been knocked off the list,
but I will say that there are some suggestions
that that should
be reconsidered,
but we won't go to that
discussion at this point.
In addition
to these eight planets,
we have a grouping
of rock, dust,
and ice and garbage debris,
if you will,
um, old kinds of particles and
chunks and rock fragments that
never made it into a planet
but are still moving around
throughout the solar system.
So the three I want to talk
about that are important,
because they also
speak to this idea
that they are the source areas
for the meteors that end up hitting the earth
and causing mass extinctions
and-and great destruction.
Uh, the first one is called the
asteroid belt. [clears throat]
So the terminology here
is that when a-a body
is moving through space,
um, we call that a meteor,
and meteors can be
composed of two types.
Uh, one is composed
of solid rock,
and we call that an asteroid.
One is composed of
primarily, um, ice
and then rock fragments,
and that's called a comet.
So the asteroid belt is, again,
primarily formed of these
very large, uh, pieces of rock
that are, uh, whirling
through the universe,
and the asteroid belt
is just to the outside of Mars,
and this speaks to the idea
that through history Mars
has been a lot less lucky
than Earth has been,
and lucky in-in respect to
how many times meteors
have pulverized
and hit the planet.
We've had plenty on Earth,
but we've had
a lot more on Mars,
and one of the reason Mars
currently is a
cold, desolate place
with, uh, we hope the potential
for life in the subsurface,
is because, simply put,
they were bombarded with meteors
that came in
from the asteroid belt.
Another really
important grouping
of-of bodies in the universe,
um, and the solar system are-
we call it the Kuiper belt,
and Kuiper was the name
of the scientist
who identified these originally,
and this is a group of comets,
again, the-the-the water
and, um, and rock debris
chunks that are flying
through the universe,
and those occur
just beyond Neptune.
So we have the asteroid belt
serving, uh, serving up,
uh, Earth and Mars
and other planets
with plenty of asteroids,
the Kuiper belt
serving up comets.
And then the last one,
[clears throat]
is, um, another group of comets
that we call the Oort cloud,
and the Oort cloud is
at the very most outer reaches
of our solar system.
And-and so these three belts,
um, the-the asteroid belt, the Kuiper belt, and the Oort cloud
are sourcing primarily
the-the groupings of asteroids
and comets that then end up slamming into planet Earth.
Now, another thing
to think about
is that the advent
of the Hub-Hubble telescope,
the-the incredible, uh,
telescope that is now in space,
um, in orbit around the planet.
By focusing the te-the
Hubble telescope at some of the
farthest reaches of the,
uh, solar system
that we can see from,
uh, Earth orbit,
we have a-a brand new appreciation
of-of what the structure
of the universe is,
but one of those
is just simply how
amazing the number of,
uh, stars are,
and then in-in concert to that
is how many planets
could be around those stars.
So right now,
the sun is one of only about-
our current sun
in our solar system,
is one of only
300 billion stars.
So 300 billion, and that's
in the Milky Way alone,
and then with the findings
of the Hubble telescope,
we now know that there are many
orders of magnitude,
many, many more,
um, uh-uh, solar systems
that have even-
have not even been mapped throughout the universe.
So the Milky Way is one of
hundreds of hundreds of billions
of galaxies and solar systems
that are just visible,
and then there's
a whole nother suite of these
that we can't see yet.
So, the idea is that
our solar system, as amazing and
complex and dynamic as it is,
is just one-one tiny,
uh-uh, fleck or sliver
of the total number
that are out there.
So this structure
of our solar system:
the rocky planets,
the Jovian gas giants,
and then having
an asteroid belt, a Kuiper belt,
and an Oort cloud,
[clears throat]
that's the structure then, that's the dynamic
that is allowing us to have,
through geological time
and it'll happen again
in the future,
regular bombardment
of the earth by meteors.
And when a-a rock body,
an asteroid or a comet,
is flying through the universe, we call that a meteor,
but then when it slams
into a planet,
or in our case slams
into the earth,
we then call that a meteorite.
So the meteorites that we find
on Earth has given-have given us
a lot of information
about the solar system
and-and-and that's another piece of evidence that we have
to know the structure, um,
of our planetary system.
And then this sets the stage
then to understand why
[clears throat] we've had, through geological time,
so many impacts on the planet from these meteors,
and then the segue from that
is to recognize
that the structure
of Earth history
and the structure
of geological time
is actually formulated around
the series of meteor impacts
that have taken place,
and the reason for that is that most of Earth history
[clears throat]
is broken up and structured
according to the history of life
and the paleontological
fossil record
of what we see on the planet.
So this particular
Earth structure-
universal structure, we've seen,
then that's what allows
that structural component
of how time is carved up
between, primarily,
meteor impacts.
[Valdville music]