When you say apocalypse', you immediately conjure visions of an end to the world as we know it. It's a part of our culture, our media and of course, it is in large part, a product of both science fiction AND fact. As in business, one must be prepared: you speculate to accumulate. And so in science, the best way to be prepared for such eventualities is to speculate. What are the 'global killers'.
going to be? How, if at all can we prepare for those? And can we safely make some assumptions about their possibility, without in actual fact inducing a premature panic for their probability?
The danger is clear don't speculate and get caught one day, unaware! Speculate too much and one risks inducing the very panic that said speculation is designed to curtail.
But Fear Not!
Welcome to the end of the world...
1. A Black hole Visiting and swallowing Earth:
We don't exactly know what happens to matter when falling into a black hole though we can be sure that only due to the enormous gravitational force our civilisation ends right there. And so it is that Earth too could be vulnerable. Whyever not? We are, at our 'core' (!) simply a part of 'space'. A planet a starry spec 'out there'.
And if any other star can be swallowed then it would be both complacent and indeed illogical to assume that the Earth is beyond such a fate. Imagine CERN, the particle accelerator, simulating the origins of the Earth: the 'big bang'.
Well, it has been legitimately speculated that a strong gravitational force could thereby be generated and in turn, tear apart the very fabric of the Earth's stability. In short we could create our own 'black hole' and that would swallow us up. Discovery has a price and that price could be an apocalypse!
The strong gravitational force would tear apart the planet for sure, so even without knowing what happens to matter beyond the Event Horizon of the black hole, we can be sure that's the end of our world as we know it.
2. A Gamma Ray Burst reaching earth:
A gamma ray burst occurs when a massive star dies and collapses, causing a huge explosion known as a supernova. The remnant of this supernova is often a neutron star, quark star or black hole. During the supernova a narrow beam of intense radiation known as a gamma-ray burst is sometimes released from either pole of the star.
A gamma-ray burst is incredibly powerful, typically releasing more energy in seconds than
the sun will in its 10 billion-year lifetime. A planet caught in one of these bursts would lose its atmosphere instantly and would be left a burnt cinder, astronomers say.
In the realm of science fiction, gamma rays are our friends rather than foes. Note that the heroic and altruistic Dr. Bruce Banner researches the things for the benefit of mankind; his expertise on the subject helping to perfect a super-soldier serum and repel an alien invasion. Unfortunately, it also turns him into a giant raging monster known as the HULK. But just think of the fun we all have in watching 'HULK SMASH'. Empirical, scientific proofs are available,0 Marvel comic books, N series, cartoon shows and of course the recent Avengers Ase-Pmble and forthcoming Age of Ultron.
3. Alien Invasion:
Ok This was ALWAYS going to be a long shot. But it IS possible. Not probable, granted. But possible. You cannot rule it out Consider this: SOMEWHERE in our dense universe, there is at least one planet CAPABLE of sustaining life in a similar capacity to that of Earth.
Who is to say that the spark did not ignite? We may indeed have alien counterparts. Granted, they may have chosen NOT to contact us! Perhaps they took one look at the Earth's aesthetic from space: pollution; ozone layer: oceans expanding and ice caps melting and thought 'sod this: back to our leaded'. IE if we seem primitive and destructive to a SUPERIOR species, then WHY would they even venture into OUR territory? Would YOU settle in an uninhabitable home? No. Neither would aliens.
The logical alternative is that the alien life forms in question are LESS advanced than we. Therefore, they would have neither means nor inclination to contact the Earth. This is a prominent concern in science fiction: note that Star Trek often speaks of "pre industrial civilisations', rather than having EVERY star and system populated by God like beings (0 /Khan et at are not always the focus; note Star Trek Generations and Insurrection both feature primitive communities).
That said, we just don't know yet. The Sheer mathematics that divide us in light years could prevent a communication of any meaningful nature to intercept or prevent the dark day of an alien war. Indeed, the way the makers of the inevitable Independence Day sequel (20 years after the original was a box office hit) explained the delay in those terms: 'twenty years could be five minutes to an alien race' (relativity, basically).
If these are indeed hostile aliens, what is the greatest weapon in warfare? SURPRISE! So don't rule out an attack one day, as you go about your daily business..( ct War of the Worlds) or even just an outbreak of a virus carried by one of OUR space explorers (remember, readers: a 'virus' IS an intelligent Life form..and they do exist in space). 'In space, no-one can hear you cough' .
4. Vacuum Instability:
Don't let the title scare you away. Let us explain..
The Standard Model', that is our best model of the universe so far, says that the vacuum is not devoid of matter. Instead, it teems with particles and antiparticles that pop into existence and run into one another and annihilate themselves. This quantum mechanic process violates no laws of physics, provided the particles don't live longer than a fleeting instant.
The Standard Model also says that for the vacuum of empty space to be stable, we should be living at a minimum of potential energy. It is like living at the bottom of a valley bordered by hills! And the value of the Higgs potential would be lowest point of the valley.
BUT our Universe might end if our valley really is not the lowest one around. The shape of the Higgs potential is determined precisely by the Higgs mass. The observed 126 GeV mass scorns to imply the universe does not exist in the lowest possible energy state.
It is sort of like being in a valley whose floor is higher than that of an adjoining valley. If we did not know that a deep valley was on the other side of the hilt we would think we were at the lowest level we could be. If we somehow managed to get to the other side, however, we could fall much lower.
This situation would normally not pose a problem, as we could not travel between valleys, except in quantum mechanics, which allows particles to tunnel through hills unpredictably. As a result in the future our Universe could spontaneously and randomly tunnel through to the deeper one, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
5. Our Sun comes to the End of it's life Cycle:
Our day begins and ends with the rise and fall of the Sun. Should the lifespan of the Earth itself be any different? IE: one terrible day..the Sun rises.. and rises..and rises. Until it explodes. 'Sundown' acquires an horrific and destructive yet awesomely powerful connotation. The death of the Sun would mean the death of the Earth. And, like it or not the sun's death is inevitable! It is in effect a ticking time-bomb of energy from which its heat is transmitted to us.
But at least we won't be alone recommend Danny Boyle's in the wake. The Sun's death excellent film, Sunshine. would also take out most of the solar system. Unlikely as it is for the Sun to turn into a supernova soon, when it does reach 'Red Giant' phase, it will swallow the Earth. Think of the rest of the solar system as the sweet that follows Earth as the main course. At least we go down as the centre of the Universe in some sense?
6. Solar SuperStorm:
Ever had one of those days where nothing works? Your Broadband is slow Your mobile phone signal is non existent. Just imagine that multiplied by infinity and you're not even close to the very real, very possible nightmare that is the solar superstorm! When it comes (and it will), it brings down all our electric networks and power grids. The result? We get catapulted back to the middle age.
Good luck with that! The solar flares are not just an explosion on the Suns surface, they actually push waves of light out in all possible spectra - including X-Rays, Gamma Rays and all that 'good' radiation that is deadly to our human species. But Solar storms also cause pretty colorful auroras in the sky, so at least we will have something to watch while the electronic devices of our civilisation are being wiped out.
If String Theory and one of its successors M-Theory stand, then our Universe began with two so called cosmic membranes colliding. If our bran, that contains our Universe as we know it, collides with another one and a new Universe starts to emerge our current Universe may be discontinued.
IE multiple universes could be co-existing at this point. But, to quote the tagline for the Highlander films, 'there can only be one'. A scientific equivalent of corporate merger or acquisition in dimensions would have to happen at some point.
The smaller of the two dimensions must fold into its larger counterpart And, since we are at this point only speculating as to how many additional dimensions are 'out there', you can make a fairly safe bet that if one dimension has to 'give', then it'll be ours. You have been warned!
8. Asteroid Impact:
It is very likely that an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs that ruled our planet for 100 million years. There was the impact of the asteroid itself (akin to a thousand nukes hitting the earth all over) and its explosive destruction.
And there was the frozen legacy. an ice age, wiping out the ecosystems and sustainability that enables survival at any leveL So, even if one were to survive an asteroid's impact with the Earth in the future, you WILL go 'the way of the dinosaur' in its wake. For a dramatic dress rehearsal (with some sound physics, save the inevitable stretches) see the films Armageddon and Deep Impact ( both 1998).
Equally, you can read up on current research in the area. A good example would be at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and associated Observatory at Dunsink. One of our editors has visited both and met the experts, as his Grandfather (the late CoL John P. Duggan) was Registrar at the Institute. Yes, that's right: Ireland is THE place to prepare for a meteor attack! They have beer and whiskey!
9. Mass Destruction:
We are not a political magazine. But it has to be broached: mankind's decisions in global security or apparent lack thereof could wipe us out ALL of us. One nuclear attack taken precipitously that initiates reprisals; one biological experiment gone wrong either in defence from or offence against an enemy. One determined maniac with a 'dirty bomb'.
True, the world might not 'explode' in just one felt swoop. But civilisation can fall like dominos: one catastrophe feeding a chain of successors that simply expands and explodes until we have destroyed ourselves.
Science can be the agent of that chaos. Or it can engender the very brand of enlightened thought and moral communication that breaks down boundaries, crosses borders and thereby prevents any such doomsday scenario. Don't 'become death' or a 'destroyer of worlds'.
10. Experimental Technology accident:
We are right to be brave in our experimental leaps. But we must also be cautious.
CERN is designed to explore the Earth's beginnings with its Big Bang simulation. But it could also cause our end, should it ignite a black hole enveloping the Earth. Nanotechnologies are designed to locate and enable genetic and other resolutions to attacks on the human body. But just as chemotherapy destroys cancer yet also, tragically, takes 'good' cells in its wake, then so could the nanotechnolog, if unchecked, go on a rampage..across the very nerve centres of the human body.
There are countless other examples out there: scientific innovations that have a dark side, waiting to turn objective progress into some 1950s B category Movie nightmare. To paraphrase Dr Ian Malcolm (the 'chaotician' hero of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park novels, about cloned Dinosaurs going on the rampage thanks to a corporation's ill advised genetic engineering): the fact that we could achieve something does not mean that we should!
Come back next time for our next ten world destroying events. Unless of course something from this list has already happened by then? In which case, you have our sympathies. But we did warn you and did our best to prepare you, too.
STAY VIGILANT. But DON'T PANIC. Be CALM AND THINK ABOUT SCIENCE!
To Be continued...
This post was written by Usman Abrar. To contact the writer write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Facebook