Cosmic Atlas is © 2018 Alex Read

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13.8 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Big Bang

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Big Bang + 380,000 years

The Dark
ages begin

The universe is a fog of particles created in the aftermath of the big bang.

Big Bang + 150 million years

First stars form

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12.8 GaGa = billions of years ago

First galaxies form

Gravity pulls matter together into vast galaxies.

12.7 GaGa = billions of years ago

First known exoplanet forms

The snappily named PSR B1620-26 b orbits around two stars instead of one, and is far, far older than our own planet.

12.5 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Milky Way forms

Our galaxy now contains 250 billion stars

10.8 GaGa = billions of years ago

First galaxy clusters form

Galaxies are pulled together into gigantic groups.

10.4 GaGa = billions of years ago

First life-friendly
star systems

The first stars theoretically capable of supporting life would have formed around now.

10.3 GaGa = billions of years ago

Star formation rate peaks

The average temperature at the time was 13,000 degrees. It's gotten a little cooler since then.

9.4 GaGa = billions of years ago

Barnard's star forms

Barnard's star is the grandfather of our Sun's neighbourhood, being the oldest nearby star.

8.8 GaGa = billions of years ago

First galaxy superclusters form

The galaxies, already clustered together, are now bound by gravity over immense distances: hundreds of millions of light years.

7.1 GaGa = billions of years ago

Universe cools below 5 K–268 °C

The radiation from the Big Bang has spread enough to lower the average temperature almost to absolute zero.

6 GaGa = billions of years ago

Dark energy overcomes gravity

The expansion of the universe starts to speed up, as the gravity keeping it together is overcome.

5.5 GaGa = billions of years ago

Milky Way's spirals have formed

After a million years of spiralising, the Milky Way becomes a spiral galaxy.

4.85 GaGa = billions of years ago

Proxima Centauri forms

The Sun's closest neighbour, Proxima Centauri is a cosmological stone's throw of 4 light years away.

4.57 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Sun forms

A cloud of gas becomes dense enough to cause nuclear fusion, igniting our Sun.

4.56 GaGa = billions of years ago

Earth forms

The young protoplanet that will become Earth forms from the protoplanetary discThe disc of debris around a young star that forms planets around the Sun, as do the other planets.

4.53 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Moon forms

Theia, another protoplanet orbiting near the young Earth, collides with it. The debris forms the Earth's moon, and the impact gives Earth a 'wobble,' which causes our seasons.

~3.9 GaGa = billions of years ago

Life begins on Earth

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3.5 GaGa = billions of years ago

Last universal ancestor.

The last common ancestor of every living thing on Earth today lived here. Its descendents became the kingdoms bacteria and archaea.

3.1 GaGa = billions of years ago

First land life

Some adventurous bacteria venture out of the ocean for the first time.

3.1 GaGa = billions of years ago

First eukaryotes

Eukaryotes are creatures with a specific kind of cell structure, and includes all animals, plants, and fungi on Earth.

2.5 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Great Oxygenation Event

Photosynthesis of ocean bacteria starts pumping oxygen into the Earth's atmosphere, making today's life possible.

2.2 GaGa = billions of years ago

Ozone layer forms

The ozone layer in our atmosphere absorbs most of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation. Without it we could not survive.

2.1 GaGa = billions of years ago

First multicellular life

Life on Earth evolves past single-celled organisms

1.2 GaGa = billions of years ago

First sexual reproduction

Bangiomorpha pusbescens, a kind of red algae, is the first species to ditch splitting itself in half and repoduce sexually instead.

540–520 MaMa = millions of years ago

Cambrian explosion

An explosion of life, that is, as species diversify rapidly, giving rise to the complex range of creatures on Earth today.

525 MaMa = millions of years ago

First trilobites

You're able to find these as fossils today. I think they're adorable.

450 MaMa = millions of years ago

Plants and arthropods spread across the land

Arthropods today include invertebrates like insects, arachnidsSpiders and scorpions, and crustaceansCrabs, lobsters, woodlice.

305 MaMa = millions of years ago

Atmospheric oxygen peaks

With 35% of the atmosphere oxygen, creatures could grow to enormous sizes — like the meganeura, a dragonfly with a 70cm wingspan!

300 MaMa = millions of years ago

Pangaea forms

The last great supercontinent. The landmass has since drifted apart into today's continents.

251 MaMa = millions of years ago

The Permian Extinction

The biggest extinction in Earth's history: as much as 96% of its species go extinct. This leaves a gap for the reptiles to take over the world …

243 MaMa = millions of years ago

First dinosaurs

The oldest confirmed dinosaur fossil is that of Nyasasaurus.

225 MaMa = millions of years ago

First mammals

Mammals evolved from mammal-like reptiles called therapsids. At this point, mammals were mostly tiny, shrew-like creatures.

66 MaMa = millions of years ago

Creteceous extinction

The dinosaurs are wiped out by the Chixalub asteroid impact, in modern-day Mexico. With less predators, small mammals will now evolve into more dominant life forms.

60 MaMa = millions of years ago

First primates

Primates, the order modern humans belong to, begins.

55 MaMa = millions of years ago

First birds

Birds as we know them evolve around now.

8 MaMa = millions of years ago

Rigel forms

This blue hypergiant forms the bright shoulder of the constellation Orion.

195,000 years ago

First humans

The first humans, homo sapiens, appear in east Africa.

5,000 years ago

First civilisations

Agriculture allows humans to start building cities, in the Middle-East and Egypt. We have already been recording the stars for thousands of years.


Galileo discovers his moons

Galileo Galelei was the first person to use a telescope for astronomical research. He discovered Jupiter's four biggest moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io, which is why they are called the Galilean moons.


Discovery of Uranus

Uranus was the first planet to be discovered using a telescope, by William Herschel. The first six planets were known since ancient times.


First asteroid discovered

More of the solar system was slotted into place, as Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, was discovered.


Discovery of Neptune

Neptune was the last of the planets to be discovered, by German Johann Galle.


Discovery of Pluto

Pluto is discovered in America by Clyde Tombaugh. At the time it was assumed to be much larger, and so was called the ninth planet, but astronomers now classify it as a dwarf planet.


First satellite: Sputnik 1

The Soviet Union launch the first artificial satellite into orbit, marking the start of the Space Race.


First man
in space

Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin travels around the world in record time as he is blasted into space.


First "soft" Moon landing

Russia's Luna 9 becomes the first spacecraft to land on the Moon without crashing into it.


Man walks on
the Moon

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First space station: Salyut 1

After one successful stay by cosmonauts on the space station, disaster grounded Soviet rockets. Unable to reach Salyut, it ran out of fuel and was destroyed by de-orbiting.


Launch of the Voyager probes

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First Space Shuttle launch

The Space Shuttle was NASA's resuable spacecraft. Five Shuttles were used in a total of 135 missions, until 2011.


First Mars rover

NASA's Sojourner was the first Mars rover. It transmitted data for 83 Martian days, twelve times longer than expected.


International Space Station launched

The ISS is a collaborative effort between fifteen nations. You can sometimes see it overhead as a fast-moving star.


James Webb Space Telescope

This giant reflecting telescope will orbit Earth, and give us better-than-ever pictures of the cosmos. It's named after James E. Webb, the NASA administrator who oversaw the Apollo program.

In 13,000 years

Earth wobbles the other way

The planet's axial tilt reverses, so that nothern hemisphere's summer is in December.

In 100,000 years

Constellations unrecognisable

The movement of stars, as seen from Earth, changes present-day constellations.

In 1 MyrMyr = million years

Betelgeuse explodes

By this time, the red giant Betelgeuse will have exploded in a supernova.

In 1.35 MyrMyr = million years

A star passes through our solar system

The star Gliese 710 will pass through the Sun's Oort Cloud, a mere 77 light days from Earth. It will be the most disruptive event in history to orbits in our solar system.

In 8 MyrMyr = million years

Mars gets rings

Phobos, Mars' larger moon, will have been disintegrated into a small ring system by the planet's tidal forces.

In 75 MyrMyr = million years

Saturn's rings disappear

Saturn's rings are actually 'only' about 100 million years old, making them a relatively new addition to the solar system.

In 150 MyrMyr = million years

Days become 25 hours long

The Earth's rotation, which has been slowing since its formation, will have added another hour to the day.

In 240 MyrMyr = million years

One galactic year

The Sun will have completed one giant orbit around the core of the Milky Way.

In 600 MyrMyr = million years

Total solar eclipses cease

The moon, which is slowly drifting away from Earth, will be too far away to completely block out the Sun.

In 800 MyrMyr = million years

Multicellular life impossible

Conditions on Earth will have deteriated to the point where almost all life will be gone.

In 900 MyrMyr = million years

Earth's oceans evaporate

This is not good news for anyone hanging around.

In 1.3 GyrGyr = billion years

Eukaryotes go extinct

Eukaryotes, including plants, animals, and fungi, go extinct from lack of CO2.

In 2.3 GyrGyr = billion years

Earth's outer core solidifies

The moving iron at Earth's core generates its magnetic field, which protects us from solar radiation. Once the core freezes, Earth will be left without this shield.

In 2.8 GyrGyr = billion years

Earth reaches
150 °C

With temperatures at 420 K and the ever-growing Sun overhead, the Earth's surface will resemble Venus' today.

In 4 GyrGyr = billion years

Milky Way collides with Andromeda

Our galaxy will intermingle with its largest neighbour to create a new 'Milkomeda' galaxy (unless anyone can come up with a better name before then).

In 5 GyrGyr = billion years

Sun becomes a red giant

Once the Sun burns through its hydrogen fuel source, it will expand into a red giant, and emit 2700 times more power than it does now.

In 7.9 GyrGyr = billion years

Sun swallows inner plannets

Mercury, Venus, and possibly Earth will be vaporised by the expanding Sun.

In 8 GyrGyr = billion years

Sun becomes a white dwarf

Entering the final stages of its life, the Sun sheds its outer layers in a planetary nebula, shrinks and cools into a white dwarf.

In 15 GyrGyr = billion years

Main sequence stars run out of fuel

Most 'main sequence' stars, those like our Sun, will have exhausted their fuel supply.

In 450 GyrGyr = billion years

Local Group of galaxies combines

All 47 galaxies in our cluster, the 'Local Group,' will have become one.

In 1 trillion years

Star formation ends

No more stars will be born.

In 1 quadrillion years

Solar systems no longer exist

Planets have either been flung out of orbit or destroyed.

In 1 quintillion years

Galaxies no longer exist

Stars have either been flung out of orbit or sucked into black holes.

The Degenerate Era

All protons have decayed

The building blocks inside every atom will have decayed into energy.

Heat death of the universe

All that ever was becomes an empty, forever-expanding nothingness …

13.8 GaGa = billions of years ago

The Big Bang

The universe starts expanding from an infinitesimally small point. Conditions are immensely hot.

We can tell the age of the universe by examining microwave background radiation, energy left over from the Big Bang.


The observable universe.

Big Bang + 150 million years

First stars form

Gravity pulls fogs of particles into dense clouds (nebulae), which ignite into the first stars in the universe. How big a star is determines what kind of star it will become, and also how it will die: in a planetary nebula, like our Sun, or in a supernova. The biggest stars become black holes.

300 MyrMyr = millions of years after the Big Bang, enough stars have formed to end the Dark Ages.

The oldest star, HD 140283, is known as the Methuselah star.


The oldest known star.

~3.9 GaGa = billions of years ago

Life begins on Earth

Around 4 billion years ago, the oceans of Earth spawned its first life.

Theories differ as to how it happened: some think life was brought to Earth by an asteroid (panspermia?); other evidence suggests that life could just have been a chemical coincidence, just aligning amino acids and a spark.

Photo: Paul Harrison

The oldest fossils on Earth are stromatolites in Western Australia.


Man walks on
the Moon

Neil Armstrong first stepped off Apollo 11's Eagle lander and onto the lunar soil at 02:56 UTC on the 21st July 1969. It was the culmination of 8 years of work on the Apollo program, and the climax of the Space Race.

After four days journeying through space, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of another world, with the whole Earth hanging over their heads. Meanwhile, fellow astronaut Michael Collins piloted the command module, still orbiting the Moon.


Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Neil Armstrong is visible in the reflection of Aldrin's visor.


Launch of the Voyager probes

The two Voyager probes took advantage of rare planetary alignment. Between them, they visited all four of the gas giants in our solar system, and became the first probes to visit Uranus and Neptune.

Today, Voyager 1 is the furthest man-made object from Earth, approximately 21 billion kilometers (141 AU1 AU (astronomical unit) is the distance from the Sun to the Earth) away, and is still sending back valuable data on the outskirts of the solar system.

Each probe contains a 'Golden Record,' encoded with information about our world, should some extraterrestrial life run into it.


Voyager, our furthest creation.