Earth is estimated to have formed 4.54 billion years ago from the solar nebula, along with the Sun and other planets. The moon formed roughly 20 million years later. Initially molten, the outer layer of the planet cooled, resulting in the solid crust. Outgassing and volcanic activity produced the primordial atmosphere. Condensing water vapor, most or all of which came from ice delivered by comets, produced the oceans and other water sources. The highly energetic chemistry is believed to have produced a self-replicating molecule around 4 billion years ago.Continents formed, then broke up and reformed as the surface of Earth reshaped over hundreds of millions of years, occasionally combining to make a supercontinent. Roughly 750 million years ago, the earliest known supercontinent Rodinia, began to break apart. The continents later recombined to form Pannotia which broke apart about 540 million years ago, then finally Pangaea, which broke apart about 180 million years ago.

There is significant evidence that a severe glacial action during the Neoproterozoic era covered much of the planet in a sheet of ice. This hypothesis has been termed the "Snowball Earth", and it is of particular interest as it precedes the Cambrian explosion in which multicellular life forms began to proliferate about 530–540 million years ago.

Since the Cambrian explosion there have been five distinctly identifiable mass extinctions.The last mass extinction occurred some 65 million years ago, when a meteorite collision probably triggered the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs and other large reptiles, but spared small animals such as mammals, which then resembled shrews. Over the past 65 million years, mammalian life diversified.

Several million years ago, a species of small African ape gained the ability to stand upright. The subsequent advent of human life, and the development of agriculture and further civilization allowed humans to affect the Earth more rapidly than any previous life form, affecting both the nature and quantity of other organisms as well as global climate. By comparison, the Great Oxygenation Event, produced by the proliferation of algae during the Siderian period, required about 300 million years to culminate.

The present era is classified as part of a mass extinction event, the Holocene extinction event, the fastest ever to have occurred. Some, such as E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that human destruction of the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of all species in the next 100 years. The extent of the current extinction event is still being researched, debated and calculated by biologists.

The breaking up and formation of supercontinents appear to be cyclical through Earth's 4.6 billion year history. There may have been several others before Pangaea. The next-to-last one, Pannotia, formed about 600 million years ago (Ma) during the Proterozoic eon, and lasted until 540 Ma. Before Pannotia, there was Rodinia, which lasted from about 1.1 billion years ago (Ga) until about 750 million years ago. Rodinia formed by the accretion and assembly of fragments produced by breakup of an older supercontinent, called Columbia or Nuna that was assembled in the period 2.0-1.8 Ga. The exact configuration and geodynamic history of Rodinia are not nearly as well understood as Pannotia and Pangaea.

When Rodinia broke up, it split into three pieces: the supercontinent of Proto-Laurasia and the supercontinent of Proto-Gondwana, and the smaller Congo craton. Proto-Laurasia and Proto-Gondwanaland were separated by the Proto-Tethys Ocean. Soon thereafter Proto-Laurasia itself split apart to form the continents of Laurentia, Siberia and Baltica. The rifting also spawned two new oceans, the Iapetus Ocean and Paleoasian Ocean. Baltica was situated east of Laurentia, and Siberia northeast of Laurentia.

Around 600 Ma, most of these masses came back together to form the relatively short-lived supercontinent of Pannotia, which included large amounts of land near the poles and only a relatively small strip near the equator connecting the polar masses.

Only 60 million years after its formation, about 540 Ma, near the beginning of the Cambrian epoch, Pannotia in turn broke up, giving rise to the continents of Laurentia, Baltica, and the southern supercontinent of Gondwana.

In the Cambrian period, the independent continent of Laurentia, which would become North America, sat on the equator, with three bordering oceans: the Panthalassic Ocean to the north and west, the Iapetus Ocean to the south and the Khanty Ocean to the east. In the Earliest Ordovician, around 480 Ma, the microcontinent of Avalonia, a landmass that would become the northeastern United States, Nova Scotia and England, broke free from Gondwana and began its journey to Laurentia. Euramerica's formation Appalachian orogeny

Baltica, Laurentia, and Avalonia all came together by the end of the Ordovician to form a minor supercontinent called Euramerica or Laurussia, closing the Iapetus Ocean. The collision also resulted in the formation of the northern Appalachians. Siberia sat near Euramerica, with the Khanty Ocean between the two continents. While all this was happening, Gondwana drifted slowly towards the South Pole. This was the first step of the formation of Pangaea.

The second step in the formation of Pangaea was the collision of Gondwana with Euramerica. By Silurian time, 440 Ma, Baltica had already collided with Laurentia to form Euramerica. Avalonia had not collided with Laurentia yet, and a seaway between them, a remnant of the Iapetus Ocean, was still shrinking as Avalonia slowly inched towards Laurentia.

Meanwhile, southern Europe fragmented from Gondwana and started to head towards Euramerica across the newly formed Rheic Ocean and collided with southern Baltica in the Devonian, though this microcontinent was an underwater plate. The Iapetus Ocean's sister ocean, the Khanty Ocean, was also shrinking as an island arc from Siberia collided with eastern Baltica (now part of Euramerica). Behind this island arc was a new ocean, the Ural Ocean.

By late Silurian time, North and South China rifted away from Gondwana and started to head northward across the shrinking Proto-Tethys Ocean, and on its southern end the new Paleo-Tethys Ocean was opening. In the Devonian Period, Gondwana itself headed towards Euramerica, which caused the Rheic Ocean to shrink.

In the Early Carboniferous, northwest Africa had touched the southeastern coast of Euramerica, creating the southern portion of the Appalachian Mountains, and the Meseta Mountains. South America moved northward to southern Euramerica, while the eastern portion of Gondwana (India, Antarctica and Australia) headed towards the South Pole from the equator.

North China and South China were on independent continents. The Kazakhstania microcontinent had collided with Siberia (Siberia had been a separate continent for millions of years since the deformation of the supercontinent Pannotia) in the Middle Carboniferous.

Western Kazakhstania collided with Baltica in the Late Carboniferous, closing the Ural Ocean between them, and the western Proto-Tethys in them (Uralian orogeny), causing the formation of the Ural Mountains, and the formation of the supercontinent of Laurasia. This was the last step of the formation of Pangaea.

Meanwhile, South America had collided with southern Laurentia, closing the Rheic Ocean, and forming the southernmost part of the Appalachians and Ouachita Mountains. By this time, Gondwana was positioned near the South Pole, and glaciers were forming in Antarctica, India, Australia, southern Africa and South America. The North China block collided with Siberia by Late Carboniferous time, completely closing the Proto-Tethys Ocean.

By Early Permian time, the Cimmerian plate rifted away from Gondwana and headed towards Laurasia, with a new ocean forming in its southern end, the Tethys Ocean, and the closure of the Paleo-Tethys Ocean. Most of the landmasses were all in one. By the Triassic Period, Pangaea rotated a little, in a southwest direction. The Cimmerian plate was still travelling across the shrinking Paleo-Tethys, until the Middle Jurassic time. The Paleo-Tethys had closed from west to east, creating the Cimmerian Orogeny. Pangaea looked like a C, with an ocean inside the C, the new Tethys Ocean. Pangaea had rifted by the Middle Jurassic, and its deformation is explained below.

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