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MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation of stromatolites in a shallow sea on Earth in the Archaean aeon. A volcano erupts in the background, while meteors streak through the sky in front of a much closer Moon. Stromatolites are microbial mats of photosynthetic cyanobacteria, which trap mineral particles within a biofilm and build growing mounds or towers as they move towards sunlight. It is thought these microorganisms provided the first oxygen in Earth's atmosphere, although it would have been quickly consumed by chemical reactions. The Archaean lasted from 4 to 2.5 billion years ago. Oxygen started building up in the atmosphere in the following Proterozoic aeon.
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