2012. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
Mostly I feel fine because this has happened before. In fact, I myself have lived through no fewer than fifty apocalypses, and I wasn’t even born until the late eighties. We all know, rationally speaking, that the world isn’t really going to end this year just because the ancient Mayans didn’t bother to write another page of calendar, or because of something nobody understands to do with the alignment of the planets.
It’s a terrifying truth, though, that the world is almost certainly going to end at some point. This is not something that it is particularly comfortable to think about, I must say. But it’s definitely interesting, once you get past the initial whole-brain flinch. So, here’s a question: how will it happen?
When Will The World End?
The theory that seems the most likely is to do with our sun; it’s believed that it might collide with the earth at some point, or overheat massively and incinerate us all.
What’s really behind this is our knowledge of the lifecycle of stars. Stars are, effectively, giant balls of plasma in the midst of a nuclear explosion. This means that they keep on getting bigger and hotter right through their lives – but thankfully, there’s a supply of hydrogen in the core of every star that keeps this in check by also causing them to retract and cool periodically. Eventually, though, that hydrogen will begin to run out. When this happens, there’s nothing stopping the star from becoming as big and as hot as it likes.
And, of course, the less hydrogen there is in the star’s core, the less powerful its tempering effect becomes. Scientists estimate that one way or another, our Sun will probably increase in temperature so much over the next billion years that eventually the surface of the Earth will become too hot for liquid water to exist – a development that will likely destroy all terrestrial life. About another four billion years after that it will run out of hydrogen entirely and enter what is called the Red Giant phase – meaning that it’ll get so big it will basically swallow the Earth whole.
Good luck with that.
What’s not working?
There are other theories, of course.
One is the Big Meteor Crash, which is almost certainly what did for the dinosaurs. Now, this wouldn’t obliterate the entire planet – well, not unless it was really big – but it could certainly do for us as a species. It’s estimated that these happen about once every hundred million years. The last was approximately sixty-five million years ago, which puts us into the “don’t hold your breath but it could be on the way” bracket.
It wouldn’t necessarily have to be our own Sun going bonkers for us to feel the effects here on earth. If a hypernova – which is basically the violent collapse of a star – were to happen within a thousand light years of our Earth, there’s a very good chance we’d all be killed by it almost instantly. Thankfully, these don’t happen very often.
And just for a bit of a closing laugh: it’s not only the world we need to be worrying about. There’s plenty of theories that suggest that the entire universe will come to an end in about twenty billion years time, as part of an event scientists call the Big Rip. The Big Rip is basically the end point of the Big Bang – ever since that first explosion that started things off, everything has been expanding at a remarkably rapid pace. A lot of the universe is made up of something we know almost nothing about, which is why it gets called “dark matter”. This dark matter is the exact opposite to gravity – instead of attracting things it repels them. So all the time, the universe is trying to run away from itself. Eventually, it’ll reach the end. And then what? It probably tears itself entirely apart.
Given this week’s subject matter, I just couldn’t resist putting in the R.E.M classic:
And here’s a NASA video about the cycle of the sun, and what sunspots are:
And this is a pretty animation of what a supernova probably looks like:
LiveScience.com looks into ten failed doomsday predictions in a bit more detail.
Still worried? Read up on why the world isn’t going to end this year, with the various predictions debunked by none other than NASA itself.
And here’s something to really worry about – The Guardian writes on how the world will really end, at least so far as scientists can tell.
How to Survive the End of the World as we Know it by James Wesley Rawles
Megacatastrophes! Nine Strange Ways the World Could End by David Darling
A Guide to the End of the World by Bill McGuire
So either the world is going to end, right, or it isn’t. It’s stratospherically unlikely that it’s going to end this year, and pretty goddamn unlikely that it’s going to end in your lifetime. But if it does, it’s not going to be because of something we can do anything about – if we do murderise the planet, it’s going to take us longer to do it than the lifetime of anyone who’s alive now. So chill, dude.
It’s probably not the end of the world as we know it. Either way, try and feel fine.
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