By background Steve Warbis was an architect, but he has also developed the skilful use of technology to explain how the universe has evolved to the point where the human race can exist. At Jodrell Bank as an ‘explainer’ he has spoken to over 50,000 visitors. To explain the events from the Big Bang to current environmental conditions on Earth in one (fairly long) talk is quite breath-taking. This summary can hardly do it justice.
Warbis started with the celestial mechanics which first generated plasma particles. From the original hydrogen and helium (and a little lithium) formed in the Big Bang, and fundamental forces of physics like gravity, the first stars were born. Through repeated cycles involving intense heat and pressure new elements were created, and massive supernovae and black holes developed that accelerated this creation process.
A second generation of smaller, often double, stars evolved which led to explosive white dwarfs. In turn came the disc formation of galaxies such as our own Milky Way, which is 100,000 light years across.
Next came chemistry: atoms interacting in new molecular dust clouds to produce ice crystals and amino acids, lipids & vesicles – pre-requisites for eventual life. Warbis showed how only about 1% of stars had or retained a habitable zone, ie with water necessary for life to evolve. He made much of the stability of our sun’s position within our galaxy.
Now came the celestial mayhem that made us. Incidents like relative planetary movements, and in particular the impact of the protoplanet Theia colliding with the Earth, all had consequences for the axial tilt, rotation speed and magnetic core of the Earth, as well as the eventual creation of the moon. This impact may also have initiated plate tectonics.
The talk now focused on factors impacting on geological timescales on Earth, such as the role of oceans in the development of single and later multiple cell organisms which ultimately formed our atmosphere. Following the snowball earth of 2.5 billion years ago and the second one 700 million years ago, some primitive life survived. Warbis next analysed in detail what happened as a result of plate tectonics changing land and sea distributions, varying climate regimes and developing life forms, despite 5 mass extinction events. The asteroid hit at Chicxulub near the Gulf of Mexico some 66 million years ago was the last of these, having a devastating Earth-wide impact on plant food chains from which only some small mammals survived to reproduce and become our ancestors.
What an achievement to incapsulate the complex inter-reactions that were all necessary to produce life as we now live it. We were lucky indeed!
Some group activities and meetings are held at Ty Price, St Thomas Community Hall, St Thomas’s Square. There is no off street parking here. The approach on foot is a gentle slope to double entrance doors. The ground floor of the building is fully accessible and there is a disabled toilet. The stairs to the first floor are wide and well-lit with a handrail on both sides, but there is no lift. There is a hearing induction system on the ground floor.