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The Big Bang

13.7 billion years ago

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The Big Bang Theory is the scientific model for the origin of the universe, it was born out of the observation that other galaxies are moving away from our own at great speed as if propelled by an explosive force. The theory states that about 13.7 billion years ago all the matter and radiation of the observable universe was compressed into a hot, dense mass just a few millimetres across. This state is theorised to have existed for just a fraction of the first second of time after which a massive blast allowed all the universe's matter and energy to escape. In the instant (a trillion trillionth of a second) after the Big Bang the universe expanded from a few millimetres to something astronomically vast and has continued to expand , though more slowly in the billions of years since. Cosmic microwave background radiation received from all parts of the universe is thought to be the heat left over from the original explosion.        





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The Creation of Stars and Galaxies

13.7- 4.6 billion years ago

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In the first moments after the Big Bang, the universe was extremely hot and dense. As it cooled, conditions gave rise to the building blocks of matter, quarks and electrons. A few millionths of a second later, quarks aggregated to produce protons and neutrons and in minutes these protons and neutrons combined into nuclei. As the universe continued to expand and cool, things slowed down and it took 380,000 years before atoms were formed when electrons were trapped in orbits around nuclei. These atoms were mainly helium and hydrogen, still the most common elements in existence. In the following  half-billion years, clumps of gas collapsed enough to form the first stars and galaxies. In the hearts of these stars elements like iron, carbon and oxygen are produced which are then seeded throughout the universe following explosions called supernovae. A little after 9 billion years after the Big Bang, our solar system was born. We are currently finding out more about the invisible as well as the visible universe, through agencies like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and CERN ( European Organisation for Nuclear Research) who investigate phenomena like dark matter which does not emit any electromagnetic radiation and dark energy, comprising a huge part of the universe that we can only detect through its effects.





The Formation of the Solar System

4.6 Billion years ago

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Our Solar System is part of the Milky Way Galaxy that contains billions of other stars. Our Sun is thought to be a third generation star created from the materials from two previous generations of stars which had reached the end of their lives and exploded sending their material out into the universe. About 4.6 billion years ago the solar system began to form within a molecular cloud, a concentration of interstellar dust and hydrogen gas. The cloud contracted under its own gravity and our proto-Sun formed in the hot dense centre. The remainder of the cloud formed a swirling disk called the solar nebula. It was within this solar nebula that beginnings of planets were born as dust and ice particles came together in a process called “accretion”. These planetesimals continued to grow, their gravity coming to influence each other’s motions causing more collisions and accretion and so creating proto-planets. This continued until there were only four large bodies in the inner solar system, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. In the cold outer nebula much larger proto-planets formed, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Our Moon was formed shortly after the formation of the Earth; the Earth was hit by an object half its size which disintegrated along with the outer layers of the Earth. The debris from this formed a ring around the Earth which accreted, clumped together, to form the Moon.





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Peterborough Under Water

165 million years ago

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Peterborough was much closer to the equator in Jurassic times and a shallow sea covered the area. Together with warmer global temperatures, the local climate would have felt as balmy as the Bahamas. In the 145 million years since the Jurassic Period, the continents have moved hundreds of miles. Ever since the Earth formed, the rocky plates on its surface have moved around very slowly, powered by the heat in the planet’s core. Today, the continents continue to move as they collide and separate very slowly. Peterborough’s Jurassic sea was packed with creatures of all sizes, from microsopic to monstrous. The small fish, ammonites and belemnites feasted on shoals of plankton. They in turn became food for larger creatures. At the top of the food chain were the large ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pliosaurs and crocodiles. The shallow sea supported a huge variety of fish of all sizes and shapes, adapted for life at different depths in the water. Near the surface, shoals of fast-swimming Caturus hunted smaller fish. The vast Leedsichthys – the biggest fish ever known – cruised harmelssly among them, gulping in water and filtering plankton to eat. When these creatures died they sank to the bottom of the sea where some of them became fossilised. Peterborough Museum houses a magnificent collect of these fossils.





Stegosaurus

150 million years ago

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While marine reptiles swam in the Jurassic seas, dinosaurs roamed the land. Where Peterborough is today was under the Jurassic seas, so dinosaur bones are rarely found. Some however may have washed down to the coast. These bones thought to belong to a Stegosaurus where found in the Fletton brick pits.  Stegosaurus was a large, plant-eating dinosaur that had two rows of bony plates along its back that end with a double pair of spikes.





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Leedsichthys, the Big Jurassic Fish

150 million years ago

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The Jurassic sea was home to the biggest species of fish ever known, Leedsichthys problematicus This bony fish would have grown up to 16 metres in length, and is thought to have been a filter feeder, living on plankton and krill. In 2001, the most complete skeleton of Leedsichthys was discovered in the Star Pit brick quarry near Peterborough. A team of fossil experts excavated the creature, over a period of 2 years.  Over 1800 bones were collected. The specimen is now part of the Peterborough Museum collections.





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Pachycostasaurus dawnii

150 million years ago

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This fossil was found locally at the brick pits in Kings Dyke in 1994. Scientists studied the bones and found that this was a unique beast: a new type of pliosaur not found before. Pliosaurs were a group of plesiosaurs, skilled in ambush and the fast pursuit of their prey.  They had thin bones which were designed to reduce the weight of their skeletons. Pachycostasaurus Dawnii was found to have elements of its skeleton which were thickened rather than thin.  This has suggested to scientists that it would not have been a fast swimmer, but instead a slow stable swimmer. When new types or species are found, the scientists that have described them also get the chance to name them. Pachycostasaurus dawnii was named after its discoverer; local palaeontologist, Alan Dawn.





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First Ancient Humans to Reach Britain

800,000 Years Ago

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Evidence for human habitation in Britain dating back to 800 000 years ago has been found in East Anglia, in the form of simple stone tools and in Happisburgh, Norfolk, fossilised footprints. These humans were probably Homo antecessor (pioneer man), likely to be a common ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis (neanderthals) and Homo sapiens (modern humans). Britain was then a peninsula of mainland Europe.





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Last Reversal of the Earth’s Magnetic Poles

780,000 years ago

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The Earth's magnetic poles are not fixed over geological time. As the Earth spins on its axis its molten iron core naturally produces an electrical and magnetic field which gives the planet its magnetic north and south poles. The earth's magnetic field continuously and irregularly varies, and from time to time it flips completely, causing the magnetic north and south poles to trade places, a phenomenon known as palaeomagnetic reversal. Palaeomagnetic reversals have occurred many times over the Earth's history, the last one occurring about 780,000 years ago.





Britain Abandoned

180,000 to 70,000 years ago

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Before 11,700 years ago Britain was subject to violent swings in climate and environment and occupation was patchy. Between 180,000 and 70,000 years ago there were no humans of any species living here, Britain was abandoned.





The Ice Ages

2.5 million years ago - 9 600 BC

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The Ice Ages began in Britain just over two and a half million years ago. They were characterised by periods of extremely cold weather, when glaciers formed and when most of the land that was later to form the British Isles was uninhabitable. The earliest humans arrived in Britain around a million years ago, but would only have been able to live here, sometimes in sheltering caves, in the warmer spells, known as interglacials, between the glaciers. The last interglacial ended about 72,000 years ago and the human who lived here were close relatives known as Neanderthals. Modern humans (Homo sapiens) arrived in Britain as the climate began slowly to warm up towards the end of the last glacial period, from about 40,000 years ago.





Britain Leaves Europe!

8000 BC

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Britain's split from Europe began more than 200,000 years ago during an ice age. At this time Britain was a peninsula of northwest Europe. Melting water from vast ice sheets filled a giant lake in the southern half of the North Sea. It was held back by a chalk ridge stretching from the southeast of England to the northwest of France.
A Lot of Water
Eventually this glacial lake filled up with so much water that the dam burst at the Strait of Dover, unleashing vast torrents of water in an enormous flood. The flood was so violent it ripped through the chalk ridge and gouged a deep valley from the Dover Straits to past the Isle of Wight. That valley became a new waterway, the Channel. It drained the rivers of northwest Europe into the Atlantic and severed Britain from the mainland.
Britain Becomes an Island
The final division from Europe was settled about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, when rising temperatures again melted ice sheets, sea levels rose and the plains (Doggerland) connecting Britain to Europe were flooded in what became the North Sea, while the Channel River became the Channel. Britain became an island separate from mainland Europe.