Life – A Cosmic Story

Approximate Running Time: 25 minutes
Produced by: California Academy of

Release Date: November 2010
The show begins in a redwood forest, with the sounds of wind and life. One redwood looms large, until we approach its branches and enter one of its leaves, adjusting our per spective to microscopic scales inside a cell.We see a pared-down version of its inner workings, learning about the process of photosynthesis and the role of DNA. This scene sets th e stage for the story of life. We then leap backward billions of years to the origin of elements themselves. The early Universe contained mostly dark matter, which drew hydrogen and helium t ogether to form the first stars. The carbon and heavier elements required by living organisms came from generations of stars. We continue our journey, diving into the Milky Way Galaxy of several billion years ago. We approach a region in which stars are forming, where we encounter a protoplanetary disk surrounding our newborn Sun. We arrive at the young Earth, splashing down in deep water to visit a hydrothermal vent and to examine the formation of organic molecules. We then travel above a volcanic island to encounter an enriched “hot puddle” of water, in which nucleotides may have wr apped themselves in protective vesicles. Once life took hold, it radically changed our planet. Earth’s early microorganisms created our oxygen atmosphere—and may have also triggered a global ice age, causing temperatures to drop precipitously and nearly freezing out life on our planet. We continue leaping forward in time, viewing the movement of continents and the changing environment for life, until we reach modern Earth. We return home to look at Earth once more, circling the modern globe to review the evidence for the story we have heard. Much of what we understand about evolu tion we have pieced together from the fossil record, but we can also reassemble evolutionary history by studying life that surrounds us today. All life shares a common ancestry and common chemistry, a ll related at the molecular level. As we learn this, we pull away from individual images of life, and we end the show as we see their three-dimensional distribution form the double-helix strand of DNA . The audience is left immersed inside a representation of the structure of life’s shared origins.