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How does 2016 stack up to bad times and the worst of times?

You know you’re getting old when you look back on every past year and can only think about all the crap that went wrong, went foul, and went downhill from the already depressing lows of the previous crappy year. But 2016 stands out as a real stinker for all kinds of reasons. The latest being the death of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, in the same week. About the only things up are the stock market and average global temperatures. We’ll see how long the former lasts with the Trumpenstuff crew running the ship of state. Not to cast dismal prophecy, but the last time a “pro-business” GOP clown cart invaded the capital on a “mandate,” it did not end well for the stock market or any other economic index.

But if it helps at all, maybe we should look at some really bad weeks, bad years, and bad eons from olden days, starting quite some time ago.

The most violent day on Earth was about 4.56 billion years ago. Back then a day was something like eight hours long, but in 4.56 billion BC, let’s call it a Monday, Terra wasn’t very firma, because it got clobbered by a wayward planet about the size of Mars.  It’s a good thing there was no life at the time, every scrap of Earth was sterilized. The worst of the whole horrible event would have taken hours to play out. But the effects lasted, forever. One of them being our oversized moon: it coalesced from all the flotsam floating around after the great impact. It’s sobering to think, every time you look at it, that part of Earth’s mantle and crust is still up there, floating around, painting the night with a gorgeous, fleeting silvery light as it cycles through each month. 

For a long time the moon was much closer than it is now, so close that it would have raised super-tsunami level tides, big enough to basically wash over the land every day. As if that wasn’t enough, 4.2 billion BC saw a dozen or so smaller bodies collide with Earth at the onset of Late Heavy Bombardment. Let’s say that started on a Tuesday, when the first really big onemaybe 400 miles wide—came calling. This episode would have vaporized whatever thin, cracked, fiery crust had managed to form under severe tides the new moon raised in the congealing rock. Once again sterilizing everything on the world and continuing for half a billion years or so. The weird thing is, the first geochemical signs of life come creeping into the record right on the heels of all that ultra-violence, about 3.8 billion years ago.

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