Based on Carl Sagan's "Cosmos", the Cosmic Calendar is a model that compares the 13.8 billion year history of the universe to a single calendar year. In the Cosmic Calendar, January 01 represents the Big Bang, and December 31 represents "now." In this model, the earth and sun appear around the beginning of September.
In this activity, students will be able to construct a poster of the Cosmic Calendar. They will compute the Calendar dates for major events in the history of the universe, and they will cut and paste Icons that represent the events onto the correct calendar day. The major events include the Big Bang; Formation of the Milky Way-First Galaxies; Dark Energy Expansion; Sun, Earth, & Planets Form; Oldest Known Life; Animal Life (Cambrian Explosion); Dinosaur Extinction; Homo sapiens. Altogether, 37 individual major event Icons are provided for cutting and pasting.
Informational Sidebars are also included with the project, and they are also cut and pasted onto the Cosmic Calendar. These sidebars address the following topics:
Key: Cosmic Calendar Times
The First 20 Minutes
Models of the Universe in Ancient Times
Models of the Universe in Modern Times
Models of the Universe in the Twentieth Century
Some Evidence for the Big Bang
What is the Universe Made of?
Nucleosynthesis: The Origin of the Elements
Pioneers of the Big Bang
Pioneers of Earth History
Solar System Ages
Geologic Time Scale
The Last 20 Minutes
Each of these sidebars will be cut and pasted according to directions in the student lab handout.
In the lab handout, the students will use their completed Cosmic Calendars, and an essay termed "The Story of the Universe" to answer questions concerning the history of the universe, and the relative lengths of time for the existence of the earth and life. Some of the questions require calculations. A crossword puzzle is also included as enrichment for the students that finish early.
The download contains:
Icons & Sidebars
Blank Calendar Pages
Student Lab Handout
Lab Handout Key
Crossword Puzzle & Key
Links to an Excel spreadsheet for student calculations, and a PowerPoint demo of the entire Cosmic Calendar
The entire project will take about a week. it is recommended as a group of two activity. The students will construct a poster from 12 individual copy pages to create a 4x3 Calendar grid. No poster paper is required for this project. A teacher can devise many alternatives to these directions. For example, a teacher could print and construct completed Cosmic Calendars for the students to use, thereby saving time and materials. The project could also function as a work center. Groups of three students would also be an option. The arrangement of the Calendar grid could be changed. It could be made into a packet, or as a long time-line. There are many possible variations. I chose the 4x3 grid to match the original presentation in Carl Sagan's "Cosmos." Another advantage to this arrangement is that the entire history of the earth occupies the bottom row.
Video clips of the Cosmic Calendar segment from Carl Sagan's Cosmos are available on YouTube, and these can be used as an introduction to the project. (Note: The original Cosmic Calendar was based on a 15 billion year old universe. The current estimate of the age of the universe, 13.8 billion years, is based upon recent observations of the cosmic microwave background by the Planck satellite).
In modern times, we are lucky to have assembled a logical, evidence-based model of the universe, and we now have plausible scientific explanations of our origins. With this activity, this 13.8 billion year story of the universe is presented in a coherent, tangible form for students to use, learn, and enjoy.