Just a rock?

Rocks are wonderful. They’re true four-dimensional objects.

Technically, other than a black hole, everything has four dimensions, stretching in three dimensions and existing for some length of time in the fourth, but rocks are remarkable for their astonishing longevity. Compared to your average rock, our lives are rice-paper thin in terms of how far we stretch in time.

Our local museum has an assortment of fossil fragments on sale in the gift shop. For $20 you can purchase the fossilized tooth of megalodon, an extinct species of shark that makes the Great White look like a tadpole.

What's that in the water beside Megalodon? Oh, a toothpick!

What’s that in the water beside Megalodon? Oh, it’s a toothpick!

For $15 you can snag a trilobite that’s roughly 400 million years old.

As for me, I think it’s comical that money changes hands so someone can “own” a 400 million year old fossil. The time this fossil spends in my possession is ludicrously brief relative to its age, and I can’t help but wish it another 400 million years of existence beyond the pitiful 20-30 years it spends on my shelf.

We see rocks and fossils in three dimensions, but they exist in four. If we could “see” time as we see length, these fossils would be absurdly long. If we translate time into length, and consider our entire lives as roughly a centimeter in length (about the length of your thumb nail) then that trilobite would stretch from New York to Los Angeles!

Rocks are chrononauts. They’re time travelers.

In October of 2012, Lisa Webber heard a a thump on her garage roof. Little did she know as she watched TV, but her house had just been struck by a meteorite.

Picture credit: Ames Research Center

Time lapse photograph of the Novoto meteorite. Picture credit: Ames Research Center

The next day, after reading about a meteor in her local paper, Lisa and several other residents became curious about those bumps in the night and found fragments of meteorite on their roofs. Far from being “just a rock” the Novoto meteorite has revealed a surprising amount of detail about the early solar system.


Not quite the same “deep impact” you see in the movies, but far more interesting. Picture Credit: SFGate

Rocks are time capsules. They’re durable, and they capture geological events like a camera takes photographs.

The details “recorded” by the Novoto meteorite, are nothing short of astonishing.

Here’s what NASA scientists have been able to determine from this tiny fragment of rock, overlaid against a brief, rough sketch of the history of life on Earth.


The Novato meteorite fragments are an example of how science can painstakingly retrieve information stored over billions of years to gain better insights into our universe.

Think about that next time you kick a rock down the street!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s