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Surprising Science

Got 3 Minutes? Here’s a Crash Course in the History of Life on Earth

The director of the National Museum of Natural History offers an under-three-minute joyride through the history of life on earth.
Life in all its weird glory (Alena Hovorkova via Shutterstock)

The tale of life on earth is a long story, but Kirk Johnson, director of Washington D.C’s Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, can spin the yarn with impressive speed. The short introduction starts at 4.567 billion years ago, and is dispensed with in a blink of the eye. 3.5 billion years later, the main narrative gets underway with the arrival of bacterial mounds. As the story nears us in our present day, its chapters get smaller and smaller, but boy, look at Johnson go.

As director of the Museum of Natural History, Johnson is overseeing the creation of its Deep Time Hall in what used to be the National Fossil Hall. The new exhibit’s goal is to “explore the complexity of interconnections and evolution of life, learn about fascinating prehistoric plants and animals, and begin to understand our place in Earth’s history,” according to the museum’s blog. It’s a massive undertaking — no matter how quickly Johnson can motor through the story himself — and is expected to open in 2019.


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