Evolution of the Physical Universe Before the Emergence of Life

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Leonid Grinin:

"The formation of modern structure of the Universe lasted for many billions of years when our Universe ‘lived’ for quite a long period of time without any stars, galaxies, Hubble's law, clusters and superclusters of galaxies (Khvan 2008: 302). Now it is recognized that the first stars and galaxies turn out to have emerged much earlier. According to the latest astronomical observations, the first galaxies emerged not later than several hundred million years after the Big Bang. In what follows we will consider this in detail. What was the matter from which they had emerged?

* Tiny Material for the Formation of Giants: About the Gas-Dust Clouds and Cosmic Dust

Approximately 270,000 years after the Big Bang, a large phase transition occurred resulting in the emergence of matter in the form of atoms of hydrogen and helium. Later, they started to consolidate in new structures. The main mass of this matter concentrated in gas-dust clouds that could be of tremendous sizes (dozens parsecs, or even more).[1] At present we usually speak of such cosmic fractions as interstellar gas and cosmic dust. They can be both in vacuum condition and in the form of clouds. But as is known the observed today clouds consist mainly of equal proportions of gas and dust. That is why they are usually called gas-dust clouds.

For the first time we observe Nature in the role of a constructor. Before that, it had formed just the basic elements. Now one could observe the emergence of enormous structures from tiny particles and ‘specks of dust’. Later one could constantly observe similar processes in evolutionary developments: large-scale structures are composed of myriads of minute particles and grains.

Minor factors are also necessary for structuring. The formation of clouds (and later of stars and galaxies) involved concentrating of matter on enormous scale, which could have been caused only by gravity. However, this only force is insufficient for structuring, because in ‘an absolutely homogenous universe the emergence of large-scale structures (galaxies and their clusters) is impossible’ (Dolgov et al. 1998: 12–13). Thus, certain ‘seed grains’ are needed, similar to the process of formation of rain drops emerging around particles of dust or soot; or the formation of a pearl around grit.

Small fluctuations are often needed for the powerful forces to start working. Actually, minor fluctuations (minute deviations from homogeneity and isotropy) occurred in the Universe from the first nanoseconds after the Big Bang. Then the larger fluctuations happened. They could act as seed grains for the formation of galaxies. However, it is not clear what kind of fluctuations caused the formation of galaxies and what the mechanism of their formation is. In other fields of evolution initial fluctuations also often remain a mystery.

Thus, the non-uniformity (including the non-uniformity connected with different concentration) is one of the main foundations of development and evolution at all its stages and in all its forms. Any major evolutionary shift in biological and social matter at a certain stage of evolution is necessarily connected with some form of accumulation or concentration when matter becomes abundant and occupies certain niches (the periods which are similar to the first stages after the Big Bang). The higher the stage of evolution, the more important it is. Thus, in a large-scale system the common processes may proceed in their usual way, whereas in the concentration zone some peculiar processes start (as it takes place in the stellar formation zones).

* The Epoch of Formation of the Large-Scale Structure of the Universe. First Galaxies and Stars

Dark and light matter. Nowadays it is generally accepted that dark matter plays an important role in the formation of the first galaxies, as it appeared capable of much quicker consolidation into clusters than the light (baryonic) matter. The latter could not condense until the end of the hydrogen recombination (atom formation) due to radiation pressure (270,000 years after the Big Bang). Only when hydrogen nuclei and electrons were able to merge and form atoms, whereas photons separated from the matter and flew away, the radiation pressure dramatically decreased to zero. As a result, the light matter would fall in potential holes prepared by the dark matter. Perhaps, we observe here a very interesting evolutionary pattern. Nevertheless, the non-evolutionary dark matter initially appeared to be more capable to structuring than the light matter, but the progress of the former toward structuring turned out to be very short and almost leading to a dead-lock. However, as with any evolutionary dead end, this does not mean an absolute stagnation. At present, in galaxy halos the dark matter continues structuring in certain smaller structures, the so-called clumps and sub halos (see, e.g., Diemand et al. 2008). Meanwhile, the evolutionary potential of the light matter was based on the ‘achievements of the dark matter’. Such a model of development is rather typical for evolution. For example, long before the transition to agriculture some gatherers of cereal plants invented many things (including tools, granaries, and grinding stones) that later turned to be rather useful for agriculturalists, but the hunter-gathering mode still turned out to be an evolutionary dead end.

There are rather diverse opinions on the timing and characteristics of the process and sequence of formation of stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters and superclusters.

The galaxy protoclusters are supposed to have been the first to originate. As Ph. J. E. Peebles (1980: 389–390) notes, ‘The same process could operate on a larger scale, the first generation of gas clouds being protoclusters that fragmented to form galaxies, some clusters dissolving to produce field galaxies. A sequence of this general sort has appealed to many authors’. Such phenomena take place at higher levels of evolution when something general is formed (which will turn into a larger taxon in future) that later differentiates into primary level taxa. The species and classes in biology form in this way. The same refers to a society: at first there emerge rather large formations such like families of languages and then the languages, ethnic super-groups and then ethnoses, and sometimes large early empires or states; and afterwards within their framework statehood goes one or two levels down. In other words, there emerges a non-differentiated large structure which is capable to produce a great number of peculiar structures.

However, a more commonly held hypothesis suggests that protogalaxies (in the form of giant condensed gas clouds) were the first to emerge within the structure of the Universe, and later they became the birthplace for individual stars and other structural elements (see, e.g., Gorbunov and Rubakov 2012: 27). However, in recent years new evidence has come to hand to support the idea that those were the stars that appeared first. This discovery somehow modified the previous theories. As a result, at present it is widely accepted that the stars were first to emerge, but those were the giant stars, much more massive than most of the later-formed ones (May et al. 2008). Because of the absence of carbon, oxygen and other elements that absorb the energy from condensing clouds, the process proceeded more slowly in that epoch; thus, only giant clouds could condense producing massive stars hundreds times larger than the Sun (Ibid.). Nowadays there are also such giants of 100–200 solar masses but they are considered unstable (see Surdin and Lamzin 1992). We will see below that the larger is star, the shorter is its life. Thus, such giant stars lived only a few million years. In addition, the first stars contained a small amount of heavy elements. Thus, more than one generation of stars could change, until the quantity of heavy elements gradually increased. The emergence of ‘heavy elements’ from the ‘dead star stellar remnants’ resembles the formation of fertile soil from the remnants of dead plants. The circulation of matter in the Universe is always observed everywhere and at all levels.

In recent years we have witnessed the discovery of a few galaxies that are claimed to be the oldest in the Universe. Meanwhile, the dates of formation of the first galaxies are shifted closer and closer to the Big Bang. The emergence of the first galaxies is dated to less than 400 million years after the Big Bang; and there are even claims that some more ancient galaxies have been discovered. They are claimed to have emerged only 200 million years after the Big Bang.[2]

The evidence on the first stars refers to c. 150–200 million years after the Big Bang; hence, stars and galaxies appear to have emerged almost simultaneously. Since that time depending on its density the matter in the Universe coexists in three main types: in dense state in celestial bodies, in rarefied state in the clouds of different size, and in low-density state (in tens of times compared to the clouds) in interstellar gas.


The formation of galaxies and their clusters, as well as of stars and other celestial bodies was the longest evolutionary process that had ever taken place in the Universe. At present we observe that this process is still going on alongside changes and disappearance of galaxies and stars. During the first eight billions years, the formation of huge diversity of stellar bodies and new heavy elements took place in the Universe until about 5–4.5 billion years ago there the conditions were formed for the formation of stellar (Solar) system. On one of its planets there started new geological, chemical and biochemical processes."



Leonid Grinin:

* Life, Death, and Catastrophes in the Evolutionary Aspect

"The irreversible character of evolution is its most important characteristic. It can be observed as a steady movement to more complex structures and forms of organization, to the changes in the chemical composition of the Universe, etc. As regards the individual objects, the irreversible character of evolution is obvious and undoubted. A star which passed through a certain phase of life cannot reenter this phase.

The problem of the individual's death. Death as an opportunity for life to go on. Stellar life and death can hardly leave anybody indifferent. Actually, within the Big History framework, this is the first time when we come across the problem of a life cycle of individual objects in such an explicitly expressed form. On the one hand, the star's fate, lifespan, and type of death depend on initial parameters, as if they were ‘genetically programmed’ (and, hence, they may be forecasted); on the other hand, they may be altered by some contingencies. Thus, the star's fate is not ‘fatal’, indeed. Binary star systems increase highly the variability of the individual star fates; as Lipunov (2008: 252) puts it, we deal here with a kind of ‘quadratic evolution’. What is more, it is actually possible to speak about differences in the ‘individual’ stellar behavior or ‘within a group’, because the interaction of two, three, and more stars may lead to very significant differences and unusual results that cannot emerge within the development trajectory of individual stars. In fact, similar patterns are observed at other levels of evolution, when behavior of pairs or groups of individuals produces outcomes radically different from the ones observed with respect to the behavior of an individual not interacting with others.

Finally, the meaning of individual's death for evolution may be different. Up to a certain degree one may observe a direct correlation between the ‘strength’ of death, the power of the stellar explosion, and the formation of conditions for a new evolutionary search. Stellar explosions affect the dynamics of their environment; consequently, they may help create unusual conditions that contribute to the emergence of certain developmental deviations. Within tens of thousands years the zone of explosion expands to a vast area of interstellar medium (covering the distances of dozens of parsecs); in this area one can see the formation of new physical conditions (in particular, temperature, density of cosmic rays and magnetic fields strength). Such a disturbance enriches the respective zone with cosmic rays and brings changes to chemical composition (Shklovsky 1984: 209). The explosions also contribute to star formation. Thus, a star does not die in vain. One can draw here an interesting analogy with extinctions in biological evolution which contribute to new directions of speciation. The stellar destruction can be also compared with the disintegration of large empires with all the subsequent repercussions. The disintegration of a large empire leads to a cascade of new states forming both in the place of the empire and even beyond its borders. Historical detonation contributes to politogenesis the same way as the cosmic detonation contributes to star formation.

Stellar life in terms of self-organization and maintaining of the dynamic equilibrium. In the initial phase under the compression a cloud of gas ‘burns’ itself like packed straw or rags mow burn. The next phase of self-organization is connected with the formation of complex stellar structure on the main sequence phase during which burning out of hydrogen occurs. After burning out of the most part of hydrogen a star enters a new phase, it expands and transforms into a red giant. At the same time the processes of self-organization occur again and the stellar structure radically changes (highly compressed core coexists with the expanded envelopes). After the fuel is burnt out in a red giant, the next phase is compression under the influence of the gravitational force and formation of a brand-new structure: small but very massive core with extremely high density of the matter within it.

Let us consider the stellar life in terms of maintaining and breaking the equilibrium. First of all, there is a thermal equilibrium, when the rate of energy produced in the core (through thermonuclear fusions) balances the loss of energy through the emission of radiation into space. This equilibrium is broken when hydrogen fuel is gone. The reserves are apparently compensated when a star starts using another type of energy. This may occur through the contraction of the star which begins fusing helium into carbon, thus producing many times more energy for every atom; afterwards heavier elements may be used as fuel, and each heavier element will produce more and more energy per atom. Meanwhile, the core of the star begins to increase in temperature. There is equilibrium in terms of pressure of different forces and preservation of a certain form and size of the star. Within the main sequence phase, the balance is maintained as the gravity pulls all the stellar matter inward, toward the core, while gas pressure pushes heat and light away from the center. This pressure exists until the reserves of nuclear fuel are exhausted (Efremov 2003: 97). With respect to red giants one may speak about equilibrium of another kind in two dimensions. In the core the temperature grows due to contraction and thermonuclear reactions of higher levels start (i.e., involving not hydrogen but helium or heavier elements). As a result of those reactions the temperature may grow up to 100 million Kelvin. That is why a stronger gravity is balanced by a stronger (due to temperature) gas pressure. In the meantime, within the shell the equilibrium is achieved through the multifold expansion of the outer layers. In neutron stars and white dwarfs, the subsequent phases of the stellar lifetime, there is their peculiar equilibrium.

Structuring, self-organization and ‘Russian nesting doll’ structure. The whole history of star-galaxy phase of cosmic evolution is the history of formation of different structures of different size and grouping of these structures into larger ones. At the same time, as we already mentioned, we deal here with the ability of objects to self-organization at all phases of general and individual evolution. It is very important that structuring occurs not only among stars and galaxies but also among molecular clouds. The latter can be regarded as a parallel branch of evolution. Parallelism plays a great role in evolution dramatically increasing the opportunities of transition to something new and creating a field of contacts between various directions of evolution (see about it below).

Giant molecular clouds as a rule have a rather complex ‘Russian nesting doll’ structure when small and large condensations are nested into larger and more vacuum ones (see Surkova 2005: 48). ‘Russian nesting doll’ structure (strongly resembling a fractal one) is also typical of higher levels of evolution. Thus, smaller groups of herding and social animals, which are the part of larger groups, are similar in a general way to the structure of a large society. This also refers to social evolution, in particular, the organizations which are not centralized, for example, tribal alliances. The components of the latter (lineages, clans, subtribes) are less similar to the structure (and the principle of structuring) of a tribe. That is why the tribes can easily be separated and if necessary be gathered. This is typical of the amalgamations of the representatives of the fauna (flocks, herds).

Synthesis of gradualism and catastrophism. With respect to cosmic evolution one may observe a combination of two principles that provoke endless discussions in geology and biology. The subject of those discussions is what principle prevails in evolution. Are we dealing mostly with slow gradual changes, eventually leading to major changes (gradualism)? Or, does the development mostly proceed through sharp revolutionary breakthroughs which in biology are often connected with catastrophes? Within star-galaxy evolution the combination of both principles is more than just evident. Here, as at no other evolutionary level, both patterns of evolution are organically combined in individual fates of the stars. The main sequence phase of stellar evolution (when the fusing of hydrogen occurs) demonstrates the gradual character and the importance of slow and prolonged processes. However, catastrophes of various scales can take place within the lifetime of any star. For some stars, such radical changes may manifest in major – but still local – changes (such as shedding the outer layers), whereas for other stars these might be tremendous catastrophes when stars die, figuratively speaking, ‘brightly’ and ‘heroically’, illuminating the Universe, leaving a billion-year-long footprint of light. The latter, that is the extraordinary phenomena and events, both among the stars and among humans are fewer than the former, that is the common ones.

* Some Evolutionary Ideas in Connection with the Star-Galaxy Phase of Evolution of the Universe

In the evolutionary process (and also as a whole in cosmic evolution) of formation of stars, galaxies, nebulae, and cosmic clouds one can distinguish a number of important evolutionary principles and laws that are not evident. Their detection is important for understanding the unity of principles of development of the Universe. Those principles and observations are grouped into several blocks.

· Evolution proceeds via constant creation and destruction of objects. Nature, when creating, destroying, and renewing various objects, ‘tests’ many versions, some of which turn out to be more effective and have more chances to succeed in terms of evolution. For such a situation of selection within constant destruction and creation process, it appears possible to apply a rather appropriate notion of ‘creative destruction’ introduced by Josef Schumpeter (2007).

· ‘Evolution is stronger than individual objects’. Cosmic processes are accompanied with constant emergence, development, change, and death of various objects (stars, galaxies, and so on). Thus, here one can point as relevant the principle that was expressed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1987) with respect to life in the following way: ‘life is stronger than organisms’, that is, life goes on exactly because organisms are mortal. The same is relevant to stellar evolution. We may say here that the cosmos is stronger than stars and galaxies; and in general, evolution is stronger than individual objects.

· Rotation and keeping balance take place due to constant destruction (or transition to new phases in the lifecycle) of some objects and the emergence of the others. This keeps balance and creates conditions for development, because development is a result of change of generations and species.

· In every end there is a beginning. Star-evolutionary ‘relay race’. The material of dead objects becomes building blocks for the formation of new objects. This represents the circulation of matter and energy in nature; on the other hand, this represents a sort of ‘relay race’. The latter allows using the results of long-lasting processes, in particular, the accumulation of heavy elements (for example, the Solar System was formed from the remnants after the explosion of a supernova; that is believed to be one of the reasons of the presence of great number of heavy and super-heavy elements on the Earth and other planets).[9] Thus, we deal here with the above mentioned ‘creative destruction’ – the creation of new objects due to the destruction of the old ones. Furthermore, the new objects are different from the old ones, and sometimes these differences are quite apparent. It ensures continuity and provides new forms with space for advancement (e.g., the change of generations of biological organisms always results in certain transformations). The change of rulers may not necessarily lead to radical social changes; however, each new ruler is somehow different from his predecessor, as a result the accumulation of historical experience occurs.

· New generations of organisms and taxa are the ways of qualitative development. One may also detect generations of taxa, which already have significant evolutionary and systemic differences. Thus, generations of stars differ in terms of their size, chemical composition, and other characteristics. Only through the change of several generations of objects this class of objects acquires some features that, nevertheless, are considered to be typical for the whole class of objects. (Thus, species in biology are determined by the impossibility to sire with the representatives of other species. However, many species reproduce asexually)."


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