What happens when you freeze the Earth?You get the first animals.

Life on Earth is tough as nails.

From the crushing, soulless depths of the ocean to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from boiling hot springs to Antarctic wastes — even in the radioactive heart of Chernobyl, life thrives. It finds a way. It laughs in the face of adversity.

Turns out, that amazing tenacity is kind of our birthright as Earthlings. To understand why, you've got to go back to Snowball Earth.

Saturn's moon Enceladus. 720 million years ago, Earth's surface might have looked strikingly similar. Photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.


720 million years ago, the Earth was a pretty different place. For one thing, it was in the icy grips of something called the Cryogenian period.

Living on Earth would have been tough. For 85 million years, the planet was locked in a grinding cycle of massive freezing and thawing. This was no mere chill. At its height, the entire planet may have been frozen over with glaciers marching over even the equator. The alternative? Greenhouse conditions caused by massive volcanic eruptions.

Sounds like a bad time to be around. And, yet, life didn't just endure. This period happens to coincide with one of life's greatest moments — the jump from single-celled bacteria and microbes to multicellular life. Plants, animals, mushrooms, just about everything you can see in your day-to-day life is a descendant of this great leap forward.

But this triumph in the face of adversity wasn't a coincidence. At least, that's what a new letter published Aug. 16 in the science journal Nature says.

Life didn't just endure this cycle of ice and fire. It may have flourished because of it.

The reason, the authors say, has to do with algae. For the three billion years before, single-celled life had scrimped by on whatever energy and nutrients it could grab. There wasn't much to go around.

But things were going to change. As the glaciers marched back and forth across the surface of the planet, they acted like giant belt sanders, grinding mountain into powder — powder that was chock-full of minerals like phosphates. When the cycle flipped and the volcanoes took over, the glaciers melted and dumped all those nutrients straight into the ocean.

Where the algae could get it.

Which then spread like never before.

Which was then food for everything else. Suddenly there was plenty to go around and life began to eat. And thrive. And change. And, over time, that life made the leap from tiny, lonely microbes to the ancestors of all the multicellular life we see today.

We don't just endure hard times. They give us the fuel we need to grow.

This is just one possible explanation, but the scientists say it's backed up by evidence. Chemical signatures in the rocks show a massive algal bloom around this time. Other ideas might come in later and disprove it, of course — that's just how science goes.

But if this is true, then it just makes life on Earth that much more incredible.

Most Shared

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

How much of what we do is influenced by what we see on TV? When it comes to risky behavior, Netflix isn't taking any chances.

After receiving a lot of heat, the streaming platform is finally removing a controversial scenedepicting teen suicide in season one of "13 Reasons Why. The decision comes two years after the show's release after statistics reveal an uptick in teen suicide.

"As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one," Netflix said in a statement, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Words matter. And they especially matter when we are talking about the safety and well-being of children.

While the #MeToo movement has shed light on sexual assault allegations that have long been swept under the rug, it has also brought to the forefront the language we use when discussing such cases. As a writer, I appreciate the importance of using varied wording, but it's vital we try to remain as accurate as possible in how we describe things.

There can be gray area in some topics, but some phrases being published by the media regarding sexual predation are not gray and need to be nixed completely—not only because they dilute the severity of the crime, but because they are simply inaccurate by definition.

One such phrase is "non-consensual sex with a minor." First of all, non-consensual sex is "rape" no matter who is involved. Second of all, most minors legally cannot consent to sex (the age of consent in the U.S. ranges by state from 16 to 18), so sex with a minor is almost always non-consensual by definition. Call it what it is—child rape or statutory rape, depending on circumstances—not "non-consensual sex."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture