With the impending Apocalypse coming tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 21, we’ve decided to give you some REAL theories about how the world as we know it could come to an end.
These are real dangers: Everything from super volcanoes, Earth-killing asteroids and even global climate change could destroy civilisation as we know it.
Click through to see the science behind each of these end-of-days scenarios. And no, there’s no Mayan calendar involved in any of them.
ETA: 8 billion years
Likelihood: Gonna happen eventually
The sun goes through phases of activity every 11 years. We are currently at the peak of the cycle, but really, it's been one of the weaker 'active' phases we've seen lately.
In the long run, though, the sun continues to age. As it gets older and older it will brighten and heat up -- in about 8 billion years it will expand into a red giant and engulf the inner solar system.
The Earth will likely be vaporized. From Universe Today:
The heating Sun will evaporate the Earth's oceans away, and then solar radiation will blast away the hydrogen from the water. The Earth will never have oceans again. It will eventually become molten again.
Hopefully, humanity will either die out by then, or will have found a way to make a home in some other solar system, or move to a planet on the outer reaches of our own. In these outer planets, water that is currently frozen will melt to liquid water as the habitability zone increases. Maybe Pluto will take us in?
A giant asteroid will hit Earth, causing widespread super tsunamis, volcanic activity and possibly even breaking a chunk off our precious planet.
ETA: Probably within a few Millennia?
Likelihood: Very likely
NASA's Near Earth Object Program detects, tracks and estimates the danger of asteroids and comets that approach Earth. If a large asteroid were to hit the Earth, it could cause major tsunamis, volcanic and plate tectonic actions, possibly toppling our society.
This is exactly what happened 65 million years ago, when an asteroid impact killed off all the dinosaurs and 70 per cent of species on the planet. The asteroid was about 6 miles across and struck just off the coast of the Yucatan peninsula.
Dust and volcanic ash clouded the atmosphere, and green house gasses caused the temperature of the planet to skyrocket. The impact could also create super tsunamis, cause earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
Will it happen again? Very likely yes. Eventually.
But, NASA's got their eyes on the skies to save us: Steve Chesley, of NASA, told the Discovery Channel that at present they are tracking well over 1,000 near-Earth asteroids and several hundred of those could be dangerous. NASA estimates that there are 4,500 out there that could doom Earth.
Interestingly, there was a just-discovered asteroid that swung between the Earth and the Moon last week. Many researchers are calling for governments to put an 'Armageddon'-style plan in place in case we do discover an asteroid headed our way.
ETA: The next few centuries
Likelihood: We could probably avoid it if we are smart. But we aren't.
While they still have many weaknesses, robots are becoming more advanced everyday.
There is a new robot in Japan with muscles and bones allow it to have more human-like movements, and there is one robot that can turn itself into almost any shape. These advances along with that of artificial Intelligence could one day cause a robot uprising.
Cambridge University researchers, led by Huw Price, are studying dangers to humanity, which include robot uprising. Scientists said that dismissing this concern would be dangerous, according to the BBC:
'It seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology,' Prof Price told the AFP news agency.
'What we're trying to do is to push it forward in the respectable scientific community.'
ETA: Hundreds of thousands of years
Likelihood: Will probably happen, but maybe we will have the technology to predict it and lessen the damage.
The supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park is so powerful that it spewed over 1,000 cubic kilometers of ash and lava in one single eruption 640,000 years ago. If something happened like this today, it could be devastating to humanity.
To put it into perspective when Mount St. Helen's in Washington state erupted on May 18, 1980, it only spewed 1 cubic kilometer of ash and killed 57 people. Some researchers hypothesize that a supervolcano in Indonesia almost eradicated the human race when it erupted about 70,000 years ago, causing a 6-to-10 year volcanic winter and possible 1,000 year long cool period. The number of humans on Earth could have gotten down to just a few thousand.
The world has six known supervolcanos. There are estimates that if the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupted today 87,000 people would immediately die, and many more would die from its aftereffects. The ash from the volcano would intensify global warming and have extremely bad impacts on our ability to grow food.
Such an event could make thermonuclear war or global warming seem trivial, spewing untold tons of ash into the atmosphere to block sunlight. The result would be many years of frigid temperatures, wiping out millions of species. A super-volcano that erupted 250 million years ago is now believed to have created the greatest mass extinction the world has ever seen, wiping out up to 95 per cent of all plant and animal species.
ETA: Could happen anytime
Anthrax. Swine flu. SARS. We've heard a lot about global pandemics in the last few decades, but none have really panned out like in the movie Contagion.
But, that doesn't mean they won't. It's happened before.
Somewhere between 75 and 200 million people died when black plague swept the world in the 1300s. About half of Europe's population died in a four-year period. In more recent disease epidemics: 50 million people, or 3 per cent of the world's population at the time, died when the 1918 flu swept the world.
While modern medicine seems to work miracles on a daily basis, we can't depend on researchers if a terrorist group releases a mutated virus, or a deadly and infectious disease comes from nature. We are woefully unprepared.
It takes months for new vaccines or drugs to be developed, and then there's no promise that they would work, or be safe. I mean, consider all the viruses we have known about for decades and kill millions of people, but are still unable to create effective drugs for them: Hepatitis C, the flu, HIV!
And with intercontinental travel a day-to-day thing now, airports and big cities could become major hubs that can spread disease far and wide.
While we have antibacterial medications now, many diseases are becoming resistant to many, if not all, of these defenses. A deadly bacterial infection without a useful treatment could decimate our population.
ETA: Hard to tell -- a few hundred million years?
Gamma ray bursts come from black holes or from stellar collisions out in space. If a large burst of cosmic radiation swept over Earth it could destroy our atmosphere and make our pitiful planet uninhabitable.
Research from 2011 indicates that previous extinctions on Earth may have been caused by just this kind of event. Estimates indicate these bursts of radiation could happen about once every 100 million years in any given Milky Way sized galaxy, meaning there would be several times that Earth has been hit by them during our history.
Estimates say bursts close enough and directed toward Earth could happen once every 5 million years or so. Wikipedia explains what would happen if a gamma ray burst from the star WR 104 hit earth:
For example, if WR 104 were to hit Earth with a burst of 10 seconds duration, its gamma rays could deplete about 25 per cent of the world's ozone layer. This would result in mass extinction, food chain depletion, and starvation. The side of Earth facing the GRB would receive potentially lethal radiation exposure, which can cause radiation sickness in the short term, and in the long term result in serious impacts to life due to ozone layer depletion
ETA: Next few millennia.
Likelihood: Climate is changing, but the severity depends on actions we take.
As climate continues to impact local and global environments, there seem to be big changes in store for the Earth. As government officials are unable to make any move on enacting international changes to environmental policies, and as we continue to burn fuels and create carbon dioxide, the 'worst case' scenario of climate change is becoming more and more likely to come to pass.
The IPCC 'worse case scenario' is currently predicting up to 7.2 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase and a 10 to 23 inch increase in sea level. Drought in some areas and flooding in others could wreak havoc on our agriculture.
It's very likely that this will have important impacts on where and how we live. Cities will have to move away from the coasts. Some islands will cease to exist as sea levels rise. Hurricanes will get stronger. Many species will continue to die off.
Some researchers are already stating that we are in the middle of a giant global extinction event on par with that which killed off the dinosaurs. Hopefully without us around, the Earth will be able to reach equilibrium again, and maybe even spawn a whole new, more intelligent, race of humanoids. Or should we call them Chimpanoids?
If the climate runs out of control, we could end up with a very thick atmosphere, similar to that of Venus, which could make Earth uninhabitable.
As biodiversity drops, whole ecosystems could go with them. As ecosystems collapse, there will be major fallout for humanity.
ETA: Next few millennia.
The ongoing massive loss of biodiversity -- as species die off as humans destroy their natural environments and as climate changes with on going global warming and environmental changes -- could become a real problem.
A United Nations report in July indicated that the world's ecosystems 'are being pushed towards their biophysical limits' and that sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes are looming as biodiversity plummets. The press release on the report states:
If humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur.
Scientists have even named this event: The Holocene extinction event.
And it's happening quicker than any other extinction event in Earth's history. Even us humans, in our ivory tower of consciousness, depend on the world around us for food and oxygen, so an ecosystem collapse could have a very negative impact on the human race, as well as the rest of the planet.
We could run out of food and freshwater as climate, competition, and population explosions destroys agriculture.
ETA: This century
Likelihood: Could happen
With the Earth currently holding more than 7 billion people, how long will we be able to make enough food for our ever-expanding population. In 2010, 90 million people were starving in 74 countries around the globe. Time even suggested that the Earth may run out of food by 2050.
The Earth already has trouble getting food and fresh water to all of its citizens. As climate change impacts agriculture (with droughts) and as overfishing impacts aquaculture (as we eat all the fish in the sea), these problems with likely worsen.
Unfortunately, increased desertification and water use are serious threats to future food production. Perhaps not enough to cripple the entire human race, but certainly enough to cause serious problems if everybody plans to keep eating on a regular basis. Add in factors like increased competition from biofuels, an impending population explosion, crop failures and climate-related drought, and you have a perfect storm for severely decreased food production.
The world is also low on water, which is not only used in agriculture, but is needed by industry and every living person. As the freshwater in glaciers like those in the Himalayas melt away, it could have a drastic impact on the fresh water available from the rivers they feed. 3 billion people live in this drainage basin.
ETA: They could be mounting an attack right now
Likelihood: OK, we can't really know if this is likely
If the Drake equation (the calculation of the likelihood of intelligence alien life in the universe) is right, it's very likely that somewhere in the Universe there is intelligent alien life. Given that there probably is a species capable of building huge ships and travelling for generations (likely) to reach us puny humans here on Earth -- why would they?
Researchers in 2011 debated just this in a study published in the journal Acta Astronautica, and compared aliens invading Earth with how humans treat primates:
Just as we did to those beings, the extraterrestrials might proceed to kill, infect, dissect, conquer, displace or enslave us, stuff us as specimens for their museums or pickle our skulls and use us for medical research
While we have no idea if aliens coming to Earth would be friend or foe, the US military has plans laid out for every situation, supposedly.
Likelihood: Possible, but probably not likely to kill us all.
We've already seen a national security-breaching cyber attack: A virus released (supposedly) by the US Government. Called Stuxnet, it infects Windows machines, targeting a type of industrial software made by Siemens which are used in all kinds of industrial applications.
The worm was designed to target the Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges -- 60 per cent of the infected computers (the worm spread worldwide) were in Iran. The worm used four previously unknown vulnerabilities -- an unprecedented number. The virus spread quickly and easily between computers, but only affected those that fit specific software and hardware set ups, like those in the uranium enrichment facilities.
Using a similar approach, other nations or terrorist organisations could design a virus to specifically take down some of the world's infrastructure, say, our power grid, or banking system. While this wouldn't directly kill people, it would result in massive degradation of civilisation, though it probably wouldn't be permanent.
ETA: Next few centuries
Likelihood: Depends how many supervillians are out there
I'll just let this video explain:
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