5 Ways the World Might End

Remember the dinosaurs? They were going around, innocently doing their dinosaur business, when 65 million years ago, a meteorite the size of Manhattan struck the Earth’s surface. The dinosaurs never saw it coming, or at least, by the time they did… it was too late. Humans have since risen to be the apex predators and are relatively unchallenged in that dominance, but we’re still at the mercy of nature. As humans, our lives are rather short, which allows us to blissfully ignore possible dangers in the far future, but what if our demise could come in more ways than one… and possibly sooner than you think?

Verneshot

A verneshot is a hypothetical volcanic eruption that is so powerful in its magnitude that it could launch materials from the Earth’s crust and mantle into a sub-orbital trajectory. Since the eruption wouldn’t be powerful enough to send the matter into space with a high enough escape velocity, everything that went up would come back down. This is kind of like firing a gun into the sky, only to realize that the bullet would eventually come back down. If the hunk of rock coming down doesn’t kill us, then the shockwave and molten lava from the eruption would certainly do some major damage to life on this planet. Although we don’t have any direct evidence of such a phenomenon occurring, it has been recorded time and again in history that the most powerful volcanic eruption are accompanied by meteor strikes.

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Volcanic Plume

Global Warming

This likely doesn’t come as a surprise to any of us, but it’s still the most relevant way in which the World might end. Unless a more apparent threat is identified, this is and will remain the biggest apocalyptic fear. Climate change could make weather conditions increasingly severe, leading to a cascade of changes that could result in ecosystem collapse. What makes climate change such a threat is the fact that the factors causing it are difficult to eliminate, since we have grown accustomed to them across the world. However, if Global Warming is not dealt with, the Earth will be rendered an inhospitable place to live in. There’s no point denying it any more… the science is there!

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Asteroid Impact

Astronomers only know about a fraction of the rocks lurking in our Solar System. As frightening as it may sound, any unexpected rock currently drifting through space could bring about the end of the world as we know it.  Scientists estimate that several dozen asteroids in the 6 to 12-meter size range fly by Earth at a distance closer than the moon every year, but only a fraction of these are actually detected. The closest approach by a meteor in recorded history was in February 2011 by a small asteroid that made a fly by of only 12,000 kilometers. The largest asteroid that Earth experienced a close call with was in 2011; that chunk of rock was 400 meters in diameter. Our luck might run out sooner than we think, but we can take some consolation in the fact that we would know if that sort of catastrophic event was going to happen.

Asteroid Path Projections near Earth

Solar Flares

The Sun’s atmosphere extends far beyond the visible yellow boundary; in fact, it can be perceived as far away as Neptune. The Northern and Southern lights, also known as the auroras, are proof of the incredible extent of the Sun’s electromagnetic reach. Solar flares are enormous magnetic outbursts that regularly bombard Earth with high-speed sub-atomic particles. These effects are normally negated by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field, but a powerful enough ‘Giant’ Solar flare could fry Earth’s defenses. It would disintegrate the Earth’s Ozone Layer, leading to mass-scale extinction. Within seconds of such an onslaught, the Solar flare would wreck every gadget’s ability to function, leaving us powerless to mount any resistance. Although our Sun isn’t believed to engage in such excessive outbursts, scientists don’t have a precise explanation for why super flares occur. They might happen in the next ten seconds – or never!

1024px-Magnificent_CME_Erupts_on_the_Sun_-_August_31

Solar Flares

Gamma Ray Burst

When some stars reach the end of their lives, they compress under the force of their own gravity into dense ‘dwarf stars’. When they can no longer sustain the huge kinetic energy of their own atoms, they explode majestically, shining hundreds of times brighter than their parent star. This phenomenon is called a supernova, and these incredible astral phenomena unleash massive amounts of gamma rays, which are a form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation even more dangerous than UV rays.

Most of these supernovae take place too far away to have a substantial effect on Earth, but if one occurs within 30 light-years, it would likely be an extinction-level event, blowing away half of the Earth’s atmosphere! A relatively recent supernova in the Milky Way was observed in 1054 AD and recorded by the Chinese; in fact, the supernova was clearly visible during the day! Remnants of this explosion are still observable and are called the Crab Nebula, which is 10 light years long! The next candidate for a supernova explosion is Betelgeuse, which is the red star in the Orion constellation. This might occur at any time and will certainly be visible in the night sky. Keep your eyes in the skies!

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Gamma Ray Burst in a Supernova

Now that we’ve concluded this short list of possible ways that the world might end, you should understand that, while these might not happen at all, we don’t have any concrete information to comfort us. Not to cry ‘wolf’, but even one of these events could induce a snowball reaction. For example, a relatively small Verneshot could pollute Earth’s atmosphere into much more rapid Global Warming, or a gamma-ray burst could decimate the Earth’s Ozone Layer, making it susceptible to even small solar flares. Instead of an epic catastrophe, like Hollywood is so fond of showing in their summer blockbusters, several small events might degrade the integrity of our world to an inhabitable state. In other words, let’s enjoy it while we can!

References:

  1. Verneshot – Wikipedia
  2. Global Warming – Wikipedia
  3. Impact Event – Wikipedia
  4. Solar Flare – Wikipedia
  5. Gamma Ray Burst – Wikipedia
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About the Author:

Harsh Gupta graduated from IIT Bombay, India with a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering. His pedantic and ‘know-it-all’ nature made it impossible for him not to spread knowledge about (hopefully) interesting topics. He likes movies, music and does not shy away from talking and writing about that too.

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