Deep Time is the term used by scientists to describe the vast amount of time that has passed since the formation of the universe.  It is an amazing..

13,820,000,000 years long

For many of us we can almost remember back to our early childhood and maybe can comprehend the lifespan of our parents and grandparents.  We might be able to consider famous dates in the past – like 1492 or 1066.  Beyond that, we struggle with grasping the enormity of time.

Numbers like the age of the universe (13.82 billion years) are hard to imagine.  However, we can try and put those numbers into items students can understand.  For example:

deep timeAround 13.82 billion seconds ago it was the year 1577.  During that year Sir Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth, England on the ship the Pelican to hunt down Spanish ships along the Pacific coast of the America’s.    These were swashbuckling times.



deep time13.82 billion M&M’s would fill over 5 olympic-sized swimming pools (5.17 pools to be precise).


deep timeIf each of those 13.82 billion years was one mile, you would have enough miles to do 28,924 return trips to the moon.  Or, if Mars was more to your liking, you could visit the red planet and return 61 times.




GEOetc27If you had 13.82 billion grains of sand and placed them in a line, the line would go completely around the Earth once and continue for another 2000 miles.




The Earth formed around 4.543 billions years ago – so the bulk of deep time took place before the Earth formed.  Then life did not start on Earth until around 3.8 billion years ago.   So much time…and so much to try and comprehend.

There are some great timeline activities you can do with students that explain the enormity of deep time.  Building timelines of major events in their own lives is a great activity.  They can use toilet paper as a linear material and use the scale of one sheet per year,  Then get them to use the same scale to work out a major geologic event such as the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.  Gosh…how many rolls of toilet paper would they need?

Understanding the concept of deep time is important in understanding many processes in Earth science as they are very slow and steady, such as erosion of bedrock by a river.  Having your students grasp Deep Time will certainly let them appreciate the amazing universe in which we live.




How long is deep time?

One thought on “How long is deep time?

  • July 18, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    During our recent months of emergency remote learning, I had my Science 20 students individually create to-scale timelines of deep time, using found objects or any medium of choice. I meter = 1 million years. Most laid it out on their floors, but some used Minecraft! They were very creative and it truly showed whether or not they “got it”. A common observation was “but there’s not much to label in the first four meters”. This led to great discussions!


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