The world is ending

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Scientists predict the end is coming, but not in December

Regan Meloche
Contributor

There is  no doubt that everyone has heard the stories about how the world is going to end next month. As the Mayan Long Count calendar runs out on Dec. 21, 2012, theories about how human life will end have been plentiful.

Scientists argue that it is indisputable – the world will end – but, they say, there is no scientific basis for the upcoming ‘apocalypse’ in December. Despite this apocalyptic myth, scientists say that it may be interesting to hypothesize the various and plausible ways that the world could, indeed, end.

One tried and true method of wiping out the majority of life on earth is by asteroid impact. It has happened before, and scientists predict that it will likely happen again.      

Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid less than 10 km wide crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula, leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. In 1908, a meteor only about 60 meters wide exploded in a Siberian forest, resulting in many flattened trees, but no human casualties. In 2013, astronomers predict that the asteroid DA14, measuring about 45 meters wide, is expected to pass by the earth in February. Astronomers have assured the public that there is a zero per cent chance of DA14 hitting the earth, but the hypothesis of the earth ending through asteroid destruction has been heightened based on past history, and future predictions.

To clarify some terms, an asteroid is any rock that is flying through space, while a meteoroid is a piece of an asteroid that is orbiting the sun. A meteor is a meteoroid that has entered the earth’s atmosphere. This is also known as a shooting star. A meteorite is a meteor that strikes the earth.

Another asteroid  worth mentioning is Apophis, which is estimated to be larger than DA14, measuring close to 250 meters across, is predicted to pass by earth in 2029, and again in 2036. Astronomers have predicted that earth will likely avoid the 2029 flyby, but  gravitational interactions between the earth and the asteroid will alter the path of the asteroid, making it hard to predict whether the 2036 flyby will hit the earth or not.

In an effort to delay this possible doom, scientists have been trying to theorize the possibility of maneuvering asteroids from the earth’s path.

These ideas include attaching a solar-powered sail to the asteroid, painting the asteroid so that it reflects sunlight differently, or exploding a bomb near the asteroid, to knock it off its path. Most scientists agree, however, that trying to destroy an asteroid with nuclear bombs would not be a good solution. Some asteroids might absorb the impact, while others might explode into tons of smaller asteroids that would rain down on earth, causing equal or greater damage.

The other famous astro-apocalyptic scenario hypothesized to end the world is the solar flare. The sun’s moving currents of hot gas generate a very complex magnetic field and the magnetic field lines can get tangled up in each other, building up trapped energy. Eventually, this energy gets released, resulting in a solar flare and a large amount of radiation.

Another way the sun releases its energy is through Coronal Mass Ejections, or CME. CME creates a magnetic shockwave that can interact with earth’s magnetic field. In addition to creating the Northern and Southern lights, a powerful CME directed at earth could cause massive power failures. NASA forecasts that the sun will enter a solar maximum sometime next year as it continues through its regular 11-year sunspot cycle, there will be more solar flares and CME than what has been seen in the past decade. Instances have been recorded of CME causing power failures in certain regions. Blackouts combined with the possibility of large amounts of radiation hitting the earth have also been one of the predicted possibilities of how the world could end.      

The asteroid, and the solar flare and CME are just two of the many ways that the universe could kill us. Other ways include an exploding supernova or a gamma ray burst that is powerful enough to strip away the earth’s protective atmosphere, leaving the planet exposed to the sun’s deadly radiation.

Other more imaginative predictions have been the possibility of the earth getting invaded by aliens, or humanity being  infected by space bacteria that entered into the earth’s atmosphere.  

Or perhaps, many predict, the end of the world won’t be through scientific or environmental means out of human control. The end of the world could come, as many predict, through human destruction – through warfare or nuclear weaponry.

Whether the end of the world comes through an asteroid, sun flares, or human destruction, scientists confirm the world will end, but not in December. So, for now, students should still show up to their Dec. 21 finals. Apocalypse will not be taken as an excuse. 

Gizmos & Gadgets – Your weekly dose of science and technology

Looking Back: The Hubble Space Telescope continues to amaze people worldwide, as it sets its sights on the most distant galaxy it has ever seen. The galaxy is estimated to be 13.3 billion light-years away. This galaxy may give scientists an idea of what the universe was like closer to the Big Bang.

Wrinkles = Smart? Still a subject of scientific interest, Albert Einstein’s brain was recently re-examined. The famous scientist died in 1955, but his brain was cut up and the pieces were preserved. Some researchers are studying whether certain folds and other characteristics of his brain were responsible for his superior intellect.

Still 250 Short: A 3-cm long white millipede from California has broken the record for the creature with the most legs, coming in at 750. This particular species of millipede usually only has about 600 legs.

Rolling Stone Planet: The ever-expanding list of interesting exoplanets continues to grow as scientists detect a planet 42 light years away in the habitable zone of the star HD 40347. Canadian researchers also helped identify a large rogue planet about 130 light-years away. A rogue planet is a planet that is not gravitationally attracted to anything, and instead just floats freely through space.

1 comment

  1. e1f1ac0 25 November, 2012 at 17:23

    Why is everyone wondering when the end of the world is nigh? It's come and gone dear friends. May 2, 2011 … the day the Conservatives won a majority government. Surely you've noticed the pall of darkness that has descended on the land since that dismal day.  Civilization is at an end, we begin a new dark age if we cannot rid ourselves of this scourge.

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