Monday, April 09, 2007

What is the Fate of Earth When the Sun Swells?

We don't hear much about this in the mainstream news media, and though most of us learn about this in school science classes when we are young, we choose to not think about it and live as if the planet will be here forever. Many religious folks choose to believe there will be a new heaven and new earth and everything will be peachy keen for all eternity instead of accepting the realities that our sun has it's own lifespan (which it is about halfway through already) and it's inevitable death. This is what most of my loyal readers have heard me talk about quite often . . . that our planet and everything on it will eventually in the distant future once again all return from whence it all came . . . to stardust.


Even if we survive the looming 90-year drought and the unknown ultimate consequences of climate change, and even if anti-aging research pans out and you can hang in there a couple more billion years, eventually we're all toast.

You see, the sun will swell into a red giant phase that by most accounts will engulf Earth. The planet vaporizes.

There's one possible natural out, a small chance—about 1-in-100,000—that during all this swelling the sun will lose enough mass so that it loses it's gravitational grip on our planet. Then we'll be lost in space, a sunless planet wandering aimlessly in a colder, darker and eventually perpetual night. So we'd all freeze.

There are a couple bright ideas for how to keep the human species going, assuming anyone is around in the future to execute the schemes. We could simply move to Mars or beyond, once we develop the right technology. Or we could, in theory, grab an asteroid somewhere and use its gravity to gradually lift us into an ever-larger orbit around the sun so we stay just beyond the fringe of the frying pan.

Oh, and the Moon? Consider it ancient history in the distant future. Calculations suggest it will disintegrate before we vaporize.

Meanwhile, on the topic of remote possibilities: Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth.


Joules *Dances with Haddock* Taylor said...

My own thinking is that the human species won't be here in a billion years. It will either have wiped itself out (looking all too likely at the moment, but then, it has pulled itself back from the brink in the past), left for somewhere else, either to colonise other worlds or (dreaming here, but why not?) to join a galactic community of some sort, or - my personal favourite - it'll have evolved into something completely other and may not even need a planet to live on.

Of course, that all assumes that the planet isn't destroyed by some natural disaster in the meantime...

I'm rather fond of this planet. I'd like to see it survive, in spite of everything the humans infesting the surface do to it!

Andrea said...

Whoa, this is a cheery post, Stardust! What brought this on, exactly?

This reminds me of a funny line from the Simpsons...
Bart: "Aw, recycling is useless, Lis. Once the sun burns out, this planet is doomed. You're just making sure we spend our last days using inferior products." :)

(I happened to be browsing around LiveScience yesterday too!)

BEAJ said...

OK, I need a drink.......NOW.

Stardust said...

I'm rather fond of this planet. I'd like to see it survive, in spite of everything the humans infesting the surface do to it!

joules, I hope it survives too, even in a frozen state just in case there are beings elsewhere who might happen to find it one day instead of disappearing in one big poof.

It's really strange to think of no evidence of our existence left behind whatsoever .

Stardust said...

andrea, It's probably morbid, but I think about this often as I study the science sites and think about the cosmos and read about stars dying and stellar nurseries giving birth to new stars. It's just the cycle of things. This is why religion was created by humans, they cannot cope with the reality of eventual oblivion so they create an eternal "heaven" to believe in. If people need that to get through, that is understandable. But some of us, as depressing as this is, don't need delusion to cope with the nature of things. I find the whole universe absolutely marvelous regardless of its harsh realities.

It would be nice if people would stop arguing and fighting with each other and enjoy their brief 70+ years or whatever we have here in our brief moment in time.

Bart is funny..sometimes we feel that way, like what's the point then. But the point is to keep the planet clean in order that the human species has the best possible chances (however, as Joules pointed out...the human species may become extinct long before the sun fries it.)

Stardust said...

beaj - I'll have one with ya! Cheers!

Andrea said...

I hear you. I used to really enjoy astronomy books when I was little. I like that quote you have about if you got to live life over again, you'd be an astonomer. I think I might choose the same thing.

It's the thing I'm relishing most about having my head out of the sands of religion - being able to appreciate things for what they are, not what someone else imagines them to be.

The way we are now, I don't honestly think humanity will last for another billion years.

Tyler Durdin said...

I hope the human race is here in a billion years. We have come so far in our quest for knowledge. We know so much and yet, so little. Maybe, we will discover a way to live outside our physical bodies. This seems to be the only hope we have of surviving. Of course, there is no evidence to support this hope. I suppose hope is foolish.

Stardust said...

tyler, having hope isn't foolish...false belief is foolish.

I think the only hope for the survival of our species is like Stephen Hawking has stated...colonize other planets. Like the article says, colonizing Mars is a temporary solution, but will need to find another life-sustaining planet in another galaxy and figure out how to get some humans there. Then that is also only a temporary solution since all stars die, and would have to find yet another planet/s to colonize.

In the vastness of the cosmos, I really cannot see humans surviving for that long.

Tommy said...

Made me think of an intro that Julian Simon used at the beginning of one of the chapters in his book "The Ultimate Resource 2".

It goes "A professor giving a lecture on energy declares that the world will perish in seven billion years time because the sun will then burn out. One of the audience becomes very agitated, asks the professor to repeat what he said, and then completely reassured, heaves a sigh of relief, "Phew, I thought he said seven MILLION years!"

Stardust said...

tommy, that's hilarious. People are too funny.

Good to see you are still around though you aren't blogging for awhile. Hope all is well with you and your family.

Tommy said...

Yeah, I'm still here. Posting comments here and there should be okay. But what I won't be doing for the time being is getting into drawn out debates with people where you keep refreshing the screen every 5 or 10 minutes to see if the other person responds to you.

I might even do a post later on this week. I just finished a book I borrowed from the library called "The Closing of the Western Mind" about how Christianity in the late Roman Empire contributed to the suppression of the Greek spirit of reason and inquiry. The author, Charles Freeman, mentioned an anti-Christian book written by the last pagan emperor Julian the Apostate called "Against the Galilaeans".

I commented about it on Andrea's blog, because it is interesting how daring we think it was for Tom Paine to have written "Age of Reason" some 200+ plus years ago, and before the Enlightenment of the late 18th century, you have to go all the way back to Julian in the mid 4th century A.D. to find a time when it was still possible to so openly criticize Christianity and the Bible. And Julian was only able to do it because he was an emperor with tens of thousands of troops at his disposal. That's a gap of over 1,400 years!

I haven't read "Against the Galilaeans" in its entirety yet (well, at least the entirety of the portions of it that have survived", but would like to do a post on it when I am finished. It is available on the Internet if you have never read it. Just Google it and you will find a host of websites that publish it.

Stardust said...

I haven't read "Against the Galilaeans" in its entirety yet (well, at least the entirety of the portions of it that have survived", but would like to do a post on it when I am finished. It is available on the Internet if you have never read it. Just Google it and you will find a host of websites that publish it.

tommy, thanks
I am going to look for it sometime today and will be looking forward to reading your post on it.