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Space Science

This Is the Way the World Ends 394

Posted by kdawson
from the several-bangs-several-whimpers dept.
Dave Knott writes "The CBC's weekly science radio show Quirks and Quarks this week features a countdown of the top ten planetary doomsday scenarios. Nine science professors and one science fiction author are asked to give (mostly) realistic hypotheses of the ways in which the planet Earth and its inhabitants can be destroyed. These possibilities for mankind's extinction include super-volcanoes, massive gamma ray bursts, and everybody's favorite, the killer asteroid. Perhaps the most terrifying prediction is the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field (combined with untimely solar activity), a periodic event which is currently 1/4 million years overdue."
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This Is the Way the World Ends

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  • Tsk Tsk Tsk (Score:5, Funny)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday December 08, 2008 @05:48AM (#26030185) Homepage Journal
    not a single one of them even considered the possibility of streams getting crossed...for shame!
    • Re:Tsk Tsk Tsk (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ElizabethGreene (1185405) on Monday December 08, 2008 @11:00AM (#26032721)

      A much more interesting top ten would be the myriad ways that civilization could end. The next article on the main page discusses possible environmental causes of a 50% drop in sperm counts. Double that a few more times and you get a tidy end to civilization, attrition. Then there are natural or man made pandemics, massive climate changes, global thermonuclear war. How about a subtle shift in one of the universal constants of physics? The universe isn't going to keep expanding forever either. Too far fetched? Take heart, evolution is cooking up lots of nasty little things to use against us too.

      My personal favorite end-of-civilization would be the global spread of a hardy airborne virus that causes plants to be unable to photosynthesize. Fin.

      Now back to the news,
      -ellie

    • by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Monday December 08, 2008 @11:34AM (#26033235) Journal
      I would vote for the LHC, cuz I saw this totally scary video on Youtube that explained how the LHC was going to create a doorway for Satan. Seriously.

      And hey, if you're going to include a science fiction, why not include a couple biblical/religious predictions? I for one, welcome our 6-winged Seraphim overlords...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Abreu (173023)

        For a few months now, my bible-thumping inlaws have been claiming that an asteroid (Wormwood) will crash upon the earth on December 2012

        Has anyone else heard such a thing? Or is the local evangelical pastor mixing up his Mayan and Biblical eschatologies?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by hesiod (111176)

          This is how suicide cults are born. Remember Heaven's Gate?

        • by Fmuctohekerr (841734) on Monday December 08, 2008 @04:22PM (#26038435)

          Has anyone else heard such a thing? Or is the local evangelical pastor mixing up his Mayan and Biblical eschatologies?

          Possibly. Most people, particularly bible-thumpers, have a problem with rational thinking in general. I am a Christian and I believe in "prophecy" but I know the difference between my faith and my "provable knowledge," and more importantly I know the difference between what our faith really teaches and what the "conventional wisdom" might be.

          In other words, and to answer your question, there are several ways to get to 2012 in Christian eschatology. Most of this stems from the "rebirth of Israel" in 1949 and some things Christ said about His return which puts us within a decade or so of some events that will supposedly take 7 years to complete, significant milestones midway, and depending on certain calculations involving the Passover, you can get there. There is no formal connection to the Maya, but I doubt anyone who believes this would listen to you. Once you've heard a pastor talk about how many letters are in the 'Reagan,' UPC barcodes, or that Obama is going to lead a Muslim revolution, you tune out. A Christian business owner I know of once even switched from Unix to Windows because he watched a consultant type 'chmod 666.'

          As soon as a Christian begins listening to their local 'inspired' pastor, watching the Discovery/History channel, reading Bible Codes, the "Left Behind" series, and throwing out logic and reason and indulging in magical thinking in general, all hope is lost for them making any sense. I don't know about your inlaws, but the 2012 stuff seems to fall into this category for me.

          There IS a "star" that falls in the Revelation to John. It does "poison the waters" and it is called "wormwood." I don't really know what all that means, but it is clear that it is NOT the "end of the world" and there is absolutely NO reason to assume that it will happen in our lifetimes, or in 2012 for that matter. People who say things like that have abandoned reason, which is (according to Wesley) one of the four key paths to working out your personal theology.

          Which is NOT to say that believing these (or some of these) prophecies are true is necessarily irrational. If you KNOW you don't have scientific or empirical proof, YET you still believe that God exists and that he spoke to one of us through a dream/hallucination/vision 2000 years ago, AND you find it consistent with other prophecies (Ezekiel, Isaiah) and things that Christ is supposed to have said, that is perfectly sound reasoning. You may be completely wrong in the end, but there is no logical error here. There are risks with assigning probabilities without all the facts, but hey, that's induction. And being human.

          When presented with a choice and there is no proof either way (such as 'is there a God') you can either ignore the question, or make your best, inductive guess. Either position is reasonable.

          Contrary to popular opinion around here, religious or philosophical beliefs are not necessarily irrational in themselves. Most of my "religious" beliefs are clearly conclusions I've come to WITHOUT conclusive evidence or proof. Knowing - and acknowledging - this is key. Most inductive reasoning (not mathematical induction) is the same, and is not necessarily illogical or without value. Logic and reason are not orthogonal to faith in a creator, or even a savior. Bible codes, Intelligent Design, "bibliolatry", and the circular reasoning rampant in religion (and of all faiths) are all very much mutually exclusive to sound reason.

          Personally, I find the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition to be very interesting, and required reading if you want to understand the faith(s). The book of Daniel is amazing to me (though technically not a prophecy) and is so amazing the writing has been dated to much later than traditionally held because, in part... it "predicts" the future... and that's impossible.

          Let the reader decide.

          Prophecy doesn't "predict"

  • by stonefoz (901011) on Monday December 08, 2008 @05:51AM (#26030195)
    Wait till I find my r-37, space modulator.
  • by coder111 (912060) <{coder} {at} {rrmail.com}> on Monday December 08, 2008 @05:52AM (#26030205)
    We still have those bombs, remember?

    What about that? I think it's still much more likely than the other options listed. It wouldn't end the Earth (nor would for example Gamma burst), but it would end the civilization and/or kill all humans.

    --Coder
    • by sleeponthemic (1253494) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:11AM (#26030327) Homepage

      We still have those bombs, remember? What about that? I think it's still much more likely than the other options listed. It wouldn't end the Earth (nor would for example Gamma burst), but it would end the civilization and/or kill all humans. --Coder

      There are humans all over the place. In some cases you'd have detonate a bomb in one area to kill a couple of people. Seems unlikely. It'd be devastating but unlikely to occur in any civilisation destroying volume.

      • by Umuri (897961)

        Yeah, but remember the old addage?
        Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear war.

        Just because they don't get killed by the blast, doesn't mean the earth won't be completely covered in radiation. Hell, even if only a few bombs go off, with the yield we have today it still could be enough to irradiate the ocean. and then we're just boned.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:30AM (#26030711)

          I dunno, I don't think a "few" bombs going off would be as devastating as you think. Hell, if a "few" bombs could irradiate the ocean, the ocean would already be dead because that's where most nuclear testing took place.

          As for actual damage, even the Tzar Bomba [wikipedia.org] only did damage up to 620 miles away. That's a lot of destructive power, but it'd still take more than a few of them to really fuck things up. After a few hundred miles from the drop zone it was mostly just breaking windows.

          I think the biggest threat of nuclear war isn't a few bombs, but the "mutually assured destruction" scenarios where everybody just says "fuck it" and just launches all of their nukes at everybody else. In that case you're looking at thousands of nukes aimed specifically at cities.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by 1u3hr (530656)
            I think the biggest threat of nuclear war isn't a few bombs

            Actually, if you survive the blast and fallout, the big problem is nuclear winter. A full nuclar exchange would cause huge, continental fires, smoke and block sunlight for long enough to trigger an ice age. You're pretty much screwed if you crawl out of your bunker to rebuild civilisation and to find 6 feet of snow covering everything.

            Carl Sagan did some work on this some decades ago.

            • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:55AM (#26031179)

              The whole nuclear winter thing is a bunch of politics getting mixed up in science. Thus far, there has been no good proof that there's any sort of reality in it. For a decent paper on it have a look at http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/88spp.html [uow.edu.au] he covers some of the background of the politicization of the concept.

              As for Sagan himself on the issue, his research seems more speculative rather than concrete. Remember he also predicted that the first Iraq war would lead to global cooling because of the particulate matter generated from the oil fires Saddam threatened to set. Well indeed Saddam did set those fires as he threatened and it had no measurable impact on our climate.

              Don't confuse scientists speculating on things with real empiricism. There's lots of interesting ideas and theories, something with mathematical or computer models to back them up. That doesn't mean any of it has a thing to do with reality. That proof is separate.

              String theory would be a good example. It is, in fact, not a theory. It makes no testable prediction. It's a neat bit of math and who knows, might even be correct. However at this time all it is is a neat bit of math, a hypothesis on how things might work. It won't even be a theory until they figure out how to make some testable predictions and won't be at all something to hang your hat on until there've been some serious tests of those predictions.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                As for Sagan himself on the issue, his research seems more speculative rather than concrete. Remember he also predicted that the first Iraq war would lead to global cooling because of the particulate matter generated from the oil fires Saddam threatened to set. Well indeed Saddam did set those fires as he threatened and it had no measurable impact on our climate.
                I believe part of the problem there lay in the speed at which the allies and the oil companies put those fires out. ie they didn't burn for as lon

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Ex-MislTech (557759)

                Proof of it would be the Toba explosion or the cooling from the oil well fires in Kuwait.

              • by Specter (11099) on Monday December 08, 2008 @10:06AM (#26031913) Journal

                At the risk of adding something substantive to the conversation, Physics Today just covered this topic: Environmental consequences of nuclear war [aip.org].

                They seem to think nuclear winter isn't that far fetched. The link is to an HTML summary at Physics Today, but there's also a link there to the PDF of the paper.

              • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Monday December 08, 2008 @11:13AM (#26032921)

                Thus far, there has been no good proof that there's any sort of reality in it.

                Pretty much all the studies in your link conclude that there is reality to "nuclear winter", if by that you mean "significant cooling as a result of a large nuclear exchange". What's contested is mostly how much smoke there would actually be. Compared to that, the climatic effects of particulate matter in the atmosphere are relatively well understood. A few people criticized the early models which assumed that the atmospheric doesn't respond dynamically (note your link was published 20 years ago). Modern models which have dynamical circulation bear out the same results (e.g., here [rutgers.edu]). The weak link remains assumptions about what gets injected into the air, not the models themselves. You can get very large variations in particulate emissions if you tweak your assumptions about how the war plays out.

                Don't confuse scientists speculating on things with real empiricism. There's lots of interesting ideas and theories, something with mathematical or computer models to back them up. That doesn't mean any of it has a thing to do with reality.

                Large climatic effects from particulate emissions are pretty much undeniable. You don't need a fancy theory or model to know that. Particles of that size reflect sunlight. And lo, we see it happen from volcanoes. We even know how much particulate matter the volcanoes emit. The models reproduce the observed volcanic climate effects.

                The main uncertainty, as I said, is in how much burning will take place.

                String theory would be a good example.

                Sigh.

                String theory is not a good analogy. While there may be uncertainty about nuclear winter, there is still vastly more experimental evidence underlying our understanding of particulate emissions and atmospheric circulation models than there is about string theory. Comparing the former to the most theoretical of all theoretical physics is grossly exaggerating for effect. The two levels of uncertainty are not comparable.

                It is, in fact, not a theory. It makes no testable prediction.

                Both those statements are false.

                People always try to compare string theory to a model of particle physics like the Standard Model. That's not the right comparison. String theory is a theoretical framework. The correct comparison is to quantum field theory in general.

                "Quantum field theory" makes very few testable predictions, because it makes no assumptions about what particles exist or how they interact. To make predictions, you have to construct a specific model within QFT, such as the Standard Model. That is, you have to say that quarks and leptons exist, there are three forces whose interactions take a particular form, etc.

                String theory is a theory in the same sense quantum field theory is: they are both frameworks in which you can write down predictive models. String theory by itself doesn't say much other than particles are made of strings. To make predictions, you have to write down a specific model. And you can write down something like the Standard Model (or one of its GUT generalizations) in string theory. It will make the same predictions as the SM in low energy regimes.

                The problem with string theory is not that it doesn't make testable predictions. It's just as predictive as QFT is; in fact, QFT is just a limiting case of string theory, so any prediction you make in low energy QFT, you can make in string theory. And its predictions are certainly testable, because you can write down string models that are demonstrably false (the same is true of QFT models, such as all models before the Standard Model). It's hard to think of an experiment that could falsify all possible string models, but the same is true of one that could falsify all possible quantum field theories.

                The

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by An dochasac (591582)
                Fire and Ice Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. Robert Frost
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Lars T. (470328)

                As for Sagan himself on the issue, his research seems more speculative rather than concrete. Remember he also predicted that the first Iraq war would lead to global cooling because of the particulate matter generated from the oil fires Saddam threatened to set. Well indeed Saddam did set those fires as he threatened and it had no measurable impact on our climate.

                He never predicted "global cooling", even so his predictions were still wrong. In the autumn of 1990, Sagan made his most serious scientific blunder. [csicop.org] Short version: Sagan assumed that the soot from the fires could reach stratosphere, which then would endanger food production in Asia. He was wrong about that - however, the ecology of Kuwait was damaged, temperatures going down more than 4 degrees C.

                Also, Sagan was only one of 5 people who wrote the paper on Nuclear Winter. A simple oil well fire (no matter

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                As for Sagan himself on the issue, his research seems more speculative rather than concrete. Remember he also predicted that the first Iraq war would lead to global cooling because of the particulate matter generated from the oil fires Saddam threatened to set. Well indeed Saddam did set those fires as he threatened and it had no measurable impact on our climate.

                Did he really make this prediction? Given that he died more than three years before the war, I would be very impressed if he were already thinking about these issues.

      • by coder111 (912060) <{coder} {at} {rrmail.com}> on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:23AM (#26030383)
        Unless we get nuclear winter, and plants cannot grow anymore- no more food. Or radiation levels become so high that people die before reaching adulthood or cannot reproduce.

        The conventional bombs we have to detonate to kill a couple of people are peanuts compared to MIRV missiles with 10 warheads each having 0.5 MT yield. And we have thousands of these.

        I know there are lots of humans all over the place, but global thermonuclear war could have enough effect on the biosphere to render it unlivable.

        --Coder
        • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:12AM (#26030937)

          I'd bet on the biosphere surviving. It might not survive in a state that we'd like but it would survive.
          fire off as many nukes as you like but come back in 10 million years and you'll find whatever the rats evolved into hunting each other through the forests of asia and the only remains of our civilisation will be a thin layer of dust containing higher than normal levels of uranium in the rock layers.
          If you don't think the rats and cockroaches will survive then bacteria will. There are bacteria which can survive inside the heart of nuclear reactors then we're not going to kill off the biosphere with just a few hundred thousand nukes.
          Even if we could blot out the sun entirely for a million years the things living around vents in the deeps of the ocean would keep going as if nothing had happened.

          We will never kill the earth, even in a worst case senario we'll be nowhere near as bad as some of the significant events of the past like asteroid hits and super volcanos.

          But we could kill ourselves, like bacteria in a dish slowly killing themselves with the products of their own metabolism.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 08, 2008 @10:59AM (#26032713)

            We will never kill the earth, even in a worst case senario we'll be nowhere near as bad as some of the significant events of the past like asteroid hits and super volcanos.

            Sounds like a challenge to me!

          • by Jim Hall (2985) on Monday December 08, 2008 @02:10PM (#26036115) Homepage

            I'd bet on the biosphere surviving. It might not survive in a state that we'd like but it would survive. fire off as many nukes as you like but come back in 10 million years and you'll find whatever the rats evolved into hunting each other through the forests of asia [...]

            That, or they will have developed metal casings for their mutated remains, and roll about shrieking "Ex-ter-min-ate!"

            I saw something like this on television once, so it must be true.

        • by the_raptor (652941) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:15AM (#26030947)

          No, "we" don't have thousands of ten warhead MIRV missiles (that would require a massive booster). Most MIRV missiles are in the range of two to four warheads, and the US only intends to have just over 2000 operational warheads in the near future (with a handful of two warhead MIRV missiles).

          Also from the most recent material I have read the threat of a "nuclear winter" was a gross beat up. We have had multiple volcanic events that discharged more particles into the atmosphere than would happen with optimal usage of warheads to cause a "nuclear winter", and in a normal scenario they wouldn't be used optimally for that scenario.

          Additionally long time large increases in radioactivity can not happen. Most fall out from a nuclear attack is gone in weeks, what is left is not enough to destroy life. Something like Chernobyl is far more dangerous to the bio-sphere, and the Chernobyl area is still teeming with life.

          Global thermonuclear war is not an extinction level event with even the levels of armament at the peak of the Cold War.

          • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Monday December 08, 2008 @09:38AM (#26031589)

            Also from the most recent material I have read the threat of a "nuclear winter" was a gross beat up. We have had multiple volcanic events that discharged more particles into the atmosphere than would happen with optimal usage of warheads to cause a "nuclear winter"

            In a serious nuclear war you can get a lot more material into the air than that. Here [rutgers.edu] is some very recent analysis on the subject, using one of the latest climate models. (Try this paper [rutgers.edu] and this one [rutgers.edu].) This research group also does work on volcanic events, which the model's response has been tested on. They find that even a regional Indian-Pakistan exchange, each country using 50 Hiroshima-sized bombs, can have pretty significant global climate impacts (almost 1.5 C cooling). They do assume an "optimal" scenario, where the bombs are aimed at the highest population centers, causing maximum burning and thus particulate emission. The "winter" only hangs around for a decade or two, but it's worse for a "full scale" MAD scenario.

            For the full "global thermonuclear war" scenario, they see cooling of up to 30 C (~ 60 F) over some regions! The global temperature drops by 8 C, which is colder than an ice age. It doesn't last long enough to form continental ice sheets, of course. But sticking around for a decade or two is Very Bad for plant life and the animals which depend on it. (And this is just the temperature effect, not counting the reduced sunlight for photosynthesis, any burned vegetation outside cities, effects of fallout, etc.)

            A full nuclear exchange during the Cold War would have involved up to 10 gigatons of explosives. Even very large volcanic eruptions like Thera were only 0.5-1 gigatons (and I suspect that burning cities would emit more particulate matter). World War III wouldn't have been a Dinosaur Killer, and it wouldn't have sterilized the planet, but it would have had damn large effects on the biosphere.

        • by gutnor (872759) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:15AM (#26030955)

          At the very least, humanity as we know it would be completely destroyed.

          With the knowledge infrastructure destroyed, and pressing need to work on primary survival needs, it will only take a few generations to completely wipe out hundred year of scientific advance.

          And even if a bit of infrastructure and "pockets" of advanced civilization remain, what is the chance that they will be even remotely like our civilization, even if only by their approach to "science" and "progress".

    • by ionix5891 (1228718) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:11AM (#26030329)

      its ok Obama will save us

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        its ok Obama will save us

        I'll take him over the one that can't pronounce nuclear.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      Don't forget the biological and chemical weapons.

      The thing that's most likely to get humankind is a pandemic flu strain.

      • by coder111 (912060) <{coder} {at} {rrmail.com}> on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:31AM (#26030421)
        There are too many humans for that to work. There will be a percentage of population that is resistant. Even the worst pandemics didn't kill >30% of population. This would be enough to disrupt civilized way of live for a while, but not the "end of world".

        If we go into biotechnology, I'm more scared of completely synthetic viruses/bacterias/nanobots. Our current tech is still way off, but one day it will be possible to create things for which humans have no resistance whatsoever. Something like polyethylene membrane coated bacterias. I know this specific example wouldn't work, but if something as exotic was created, our immune system would be completely helpless.

        And chemical weapons are not even that scary. You need quite a lot of chemicals to cover a relatively small area. And most dangerous ones are organic and get broken down/degraded in nature. I don't think you would be able to kill >1% of world population even if you tried with chemical weapons. And to destroy entire biosphere- impossible.

        --Coder
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Z00L00K (682162)

          Give a disease enough time to find the right combination and it may end up with a lethality high enough to keep the remaining humans so far apart that the possibility of procreation may be very low.

          And it may be enough with a disease that causes sterility.

    • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:22AM (#26030673)

      Oh c'mon, that threat scenario is SO 80s! Contemporize, man, it's the Terrorists now, not the Communists.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gatkinso (15975)

      Haven't you heard? The massive nuclear arsenels are not nearly the threat that a terrorist with a shoe bomb is.

    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Monday December 08, 2008 @09:25AM (#26031439)

      The world population is increasing exponentially. Nothing increases exponentially in a limited environment, so the most likely scenario is that we will simply continue growing our consumption until we run out of the resources which allow the growth. oil, water, energy etc. Then the carrying capacity of the earth will be drastically reduced and with that goes the number of living things. In the final stages of growth humans will displace most other lifeforms which compete for resources.

      You could use yeast in a bottle as an example. It grows until all the sugar is consumed, or alcohol level is too high, then it all just dies off.

      Our bottle is simply larger.

      • by DougWebb (178910) on Monday December 08, 2008 @12:55PM (#26034713) Homepage

        The world population is increasing exponentially.

        No, it's not. It's not even growing linearly. (Do you know what those terms mean?)

        See Wikipedia's World Population [wikipedia.org] page for an article about the subject. According to the article, the world population growth rate peaked at 2.2%/year in 1963, and has been dropping since then. In real terms, the peak was 86 million new people in 1987. In 2007, there were 77 million new people.

        The article shows that the growth rate is decreasing, and it is predicted to hit zero then become negative, causing the population to crest, probably around 9-10 billion people sometime around 2050. Various unpredictable events could alter this, both in a positive way (enhanced methods of food production, including my favorite idea, large-scale hydroponic farms) and in a negative way (plague, war, climate change.) However, under the current conditions, population growth is slowing down and approaching a peak, not growing at an exponential rate.

      • Sub-linear growth (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dire Bonobo (812883)

        The world population is increasing exponentially.

        No it isn't. [census.gov]

        The rate of growth has been slowing for decades. It's not only sub-exponential, it's been sub-linear for 20 years - the world's population was growing at 83M/yr in the 80s, and will end this decade with an average growth of less than 80M/yr, despite a larger population.

        the most likely scenario is that we will simply continue growing our consumption until we run out of the resources

        Why do you believe that's the most likely outcome? Entire nations

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      There is much more to the beauty of this planet than humans and their "civilizations".

  • I am surprised that none of them have the most likely scenario. Two nuclear powers have a go at eachother destroying everything.
    • by Roland Piquepaille (780675) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:21AM (#26030369)

      Even the most retarded religious fundamentalist understands that dropping a nuclear bomb on someone who has one, or has a country which has one for a friend, isn't such a bright idea.

      No, more likely, the world (or more precisely Humanity, the planet would do better without than with us on it) will slip back to feudalism as cheap energy resources wane, and a sizable portion of the earth population will be destroyed by an ugly, multi-decade, low-level world war fueled by bigotry and poverty.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Even the most retarded religious fundamentalist understands that dropping a nuclear bomb on someone who has one, or has a country which has one for a friend, isn't such a bright idea.

        snip

        Even actually been to the middle east ?

        Some of the fundamentalists BELIEVE in their god. They don't care if they all die, so long as they go to heaven.

        • by Hal_Porter (817932) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:23AM (#26031001)

          Even the most retarded religious fundamentalist understands that dropping a nuclear bomb on someone who has one, or has a country which has one for a friend, isn't such a bright idea.

          snip

          Even actually been to the middle east ?

          Some of the fundamentalists BELIEVE in their god. They don't care if they all die, so long as they go to heaven.

          That's just neocon propaganda. In reality the governments of Iran and North Korea are made up of rational people who will always act in their countries' long term best interests despite their rhetoric. They are totally unlike the US government which will screw up and start wars because of the sort term interest of the ruling class and/or a miscalculation and plunge the world into chaos.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Shakrai (717556)

            In reality the governments of Iran and North Korea are made up of rational people who will always act in their countries' long term best interests despite their rhetoric.

            What part of North Korea's long term interests are best served by devoting a quarter of the gross domestic product (for comparison, the US spends around 4%) to the military while the population starves to death for lack of food?

            They are totally unlike the US government which will screw up and start wars because of the sort term interest of the ruling class and/or a miscalculation and plunge the world into chaos

            Are you trolling to trying to be funny? I can't tell.....

        • by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:45AM (#26031107)
          Even actually been to the middle east ?

          I'm sure you haven't.

          Some of the fundamentalists BELIEVE in their god. They don't care if they all die, so long as they go to heaven.

          Right. And you know this how? The Saudis are rich enough to have bought all the nukes they wanted (from Pakistan, North Korea, say). And they're as devout as they come. But they haven't sent us all to paradise/hell.

          Funny thing, fundamentalist leaders don't sacrifice themselves. And that goes for Muslims as well as Christians and Communists.

    • by aliquis (678370)

      I don't find that very likely since it would be so fucking stupid (and not kill everyone in the world either unless someone says "then fuck all!")

  • Overdue, eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Secret Rabbit (914973) on Monday December 08, 2008 @05:55AM (#26030229) Journal

    I always love it when people say these things. Point of fact, we don't have enough data points to make this prediction. At best, that's a wild conjecture.

    • Do you happen to know which data points we have?

      Anyway I think it will just be another year 2000 fiasco, lots of worries and then nothing happens.

      Sure it may fuck up all satellites and some communication but so what? It's not the end of the world.

      • by dissy (172727) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:36AM (#26030735)

        Do you happen to know which data points we have?

        Anyway I think it will just be another year 2000 fiasco, lots of worries and then nothing happens.

        Sure it may fuck up all satellites and some communication but so what? It's not the end of the world.

        Actually we have data points going back millions of years. They show flips of the magnetic field happening more frequently, and the current state we are in (with north at the north pole) has been this way longer than most of the other flips lasted.

        And no, it won't end the world at all. The world has been through millions of these flips and lasted just fine.
        It's ironic how a lot of people confuse 'the end of the world' and 'the end of us'

        But as a further point, it's not believed a pole reversal would just kill all humans.
        When a flip happens, there are many poles, IE there could be 8 or 10 of each a north and south pole.
        Each pole should roughly have a magnetic strength that totals our current one, thus each 'pole' is weaker.
        Only people living under these roaming spots need worry, and even then its only expected to give another 10000 cases of cancer a year (give or take an order of magnitude, going from poor memory here)

        Defiantly sucks, but not the end of anything.
        Sadly, the same is true for a lot of things on the articles list. Only life is screwed (maybe), but the planet will be fine.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          Only people living under these roaming spots need worry

          Do the uranions go up out of these poles or down into them?

          I need to know whether to invest in an extra heavy foil hat or lead boots.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dissy (172727)

        Sorry for the double reply.

        If you can find this show, it is a really interesting watch
        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/magnetic/reversals.html [pbs.org]

        They do show how the data points are collected, how they are relevant, and even has some of those funny number things i couldn't recall myself:

        You could perhaps take comfort in the knowledge that these reversals happen infrequently--on average every 250,000 years--but maybe not when you consider that it's been over 700,000 years since the last reversal, and the next one may be currently underway.

        Also pretty graphs showing the length of periods between reversals, and some more of those funny numbers, at our best friend:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geomagnetic_reversal [wikipedia.org]

        and more buried in a longer article if you wanna pick thr

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gEvil (beta) (945888)
        Do you happen to know which data points we have?

        Yup. We have a whole ocean's floor worth of data points.
  • vogons? (Score:5, Funny)

    by adavies42 (746183) on Monday December 08, 2008 @05:57AM (#26030239)
    no interstellar bypass?
  • by Whuffo (1043790) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:02AM (#26030269) Homepage Journal
    It's not how likely or unlikely those various doomsday scenarios are. What's disconcerting are the significant number of plausible and possible doomsday scenarios. It's not a matter of if, it's more of a matter of when.

    I sincerely hope that we'll be able to set up colonies on other planets or in other solar systems before something snuffs out life on Earth. Our survival as a species will depend on it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm just curious - but why do you care about our survival as a species in an event that may not happen in the foreseeable future?

      I mean, this goes beyond caring about yourself, your children, or your children's children. This goes a bit beyond survival instinct.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by upside (574799)

      Looking at what we've done to this planet, I'm not so sure the survival of our species is in anyone else's interest.

      OTOH making some lifeless planets flourish could be the greatest thing our species has done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by HTH NE1 (675604)

        Looking at what we've done to this planet, I'm not so sure the survival of our species is in anyone else's interest.

        Yes, why can't it be like, like, human beings are a planetary disease? Like the Earth's got German measles or facial herpes, right? And that's why all of the other planets give us such a wide berth. It's like, "Oh, don't go near Earth! It's got human beings on it, they're contagious!

  • If the reversal of the magnetic poles happens so often and yet there still is life on this planet, why would it kill us?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      because when the earth's magnetic field reached zero temporily (it doesn't actually reached zero, it becomes chaotic, but let's assume), it stops shielding us from solar radiations, meaning cancers, mutations, and general baking of higher level lifeforms on the planet.

      It has happened before, but modern humans weren't there to suffer from it. As for other lifeforms, most of them are a lot tougher than we are.

      • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday December 08, 2008 @08:03AM (#26030899)

        Also don't forget that 99% of the life on earth has a lower life expectancy and thus faster propagation cycle than us. When an animal dies of cancer after 4 years that has a life expectancy of 6 and is fertile with two, life can go on.

        When humans die at age 6 on average, we die out.

      • by Dr La (1342733) on Monday December 08, 2008 @09:31AM (#26031509) Homepage
        Humans (the genus Homo) *have* experienced, and survived, several polarity reversals in the past: both short terms events as well as major reversals like the Brunhes-Matuyama reversal 0.8 Ma ago. Some of the smaller duration events (like the Mono Lakes, Laschamp and Blake events) happened while Homo sapiens was already around.

        In other words, it seems past examples show we really do not have to fear the end of humanity when the earth geomagnetic filed reverses. There is no record of extinctions tied to reversal events.
  • Overdue? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by damburger (981828) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:03AM (#26030277)
    A reversal of the Earth's magnetic field is not overdue, because it was never due. The universe hasn't promised in advance to flip the field every n years without fail. People shouldn't still be anthropomorphizing natural phenomena.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "Overdue" has no anthropomorphic undertone. If the Haley comet shows up one year late next time around, it'll be one year overdue.

      As for the Earth's magnetic field reversal, they have occured regularly and very often in the past, so the next one is overdue, period. Same as the Big One in California. It has nothing to do with people promising anything, it's just a matter of probabilities.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by itsdapead (734413)

        If the Haley comet shows up one year late next time around, it'll be one year overdue.

        Y'know, words have subtly different meanings depending on context.

        In the case of Halley's comet, "overdue" means: "it should have been here 342 days and 17 hours ago - Hey, Frank, did you remember to factor in the perturbation from Uranus? OMG don't say the bloody thing has gone chaotic on us! What the hell are we gonna do with this space probe?"

        In the case of "big ones", "field reversals" etc, "overdue" means "These things seem to come by every ten millenia or so - isn't it about time we had another one?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DougWebb (178910)

        Probabilities don't predict when something might happen, or when something is 'due'. That's a gambler's mis-perception.

        If an event has a one-in-one-thousand probability of occurring in a given year, that doesn't mean it'll happen every thousand years. It means that if you look at a million year period, divide it up into 1000 thousand year blocks, you'll find that the event usually occurs once in each of those blocks. However, sometimes it won't occur at all, and sometimes it'll occur multiple times. It's ju

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Think of it as being past the 50th percentile on the probability distribution, not past the 100th percentile.

    • Re:Overdue? (Score:5, Funny)

      by slim (1652) <john AT hartnup DOT net> on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:10AM (#26030609) Homepage

      People shouldn't still be anthropomorphizing natural phenomena.

      Yeah, the universe hates that.

  • Exit Mundi (Score:4, Informative)

    by berend botje (1401731) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:05AM (#26030291)
    More and better scenarios:

    Exit Mundi [exitmundi.nl]

  • The Earth and it's inhabitants are killed by inbreeding, living in one mass trailer park and one massive tornado sweeping it clean.

    This is obviously the real ending.
  • Strangelets created in the LHC.
    Nuclear conflict.
    Mutated airborne filovirus
    Mutated bird-flu like virus.
    Biological warfare.
    Monsanto-like genetically engineered "terminator" crops pollute and replace normal food.

  • by apathy maybe (922212) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:12AM (#26030335) Homepage Journal

    According to the International Earth-Destruction Advisory Board [slashdot.org], the current "Earth-Destruction Alert Level" is "RED". Which means that the Earth has been destroyed.
    A quote from the FAQ:

    My baby's in there!

    Your baby has most likely been destroyed.

    ----

    Anyway, for you deluded fools who think the Earth is still around, take head of this warning:

    The Earth is built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.

    Obviously it's a little out of date now, 'cause those rascals at CERN managed the job, but still...

    I note that the fools from the article don't actually want to destroy the Earth (well maybe one or two of the scenarios might break it apart or something), otherwise they would have come up with some scenarios like:

    • Annihilated by an equivalent quantity of antimatter
    • Cooked in a solar oven
    • Meticulously and systematically deconstructed

    (Quote and methods from How to destroy the Earth [qntm.org].)

    Fools, I'll show them all!

    • by slim (1652)

      No mod points, so I'll follow up to highlight your very valid point: TFA doesn't speak of destroying the Earth. Only lesser achievements such as destroying (in increasing order of ambitiousness) civilisation, human life, all life.

  • by Joebert (946227) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:22AM (#26030379) Homepage
    Paris Hilton decides she wants to take a vacation at the International Space Station, at which point nerds lose the will to live and there's nobody left to invent things that take peoples minds off of having sex which in turn causes our populations to spike followed by us consuming all of the earths vegetation and eventually turning to cannibalism and wiping ourselves out.

    Meanwhile the ISS loses power and Paris turns into a popcicle, which is discovered by an alien probe millions of years from now sent to seed a now Mars-like earth with vegetation so they can migrate from their dying planet to a new home and the aliens attempt to clone the Paris-cicle using pieces of their DNA ultimately starting the cycle all over again.

    After it all we never do find out how the earth ends, but at least we discover why Paris is so fucking weird.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hanners1979 (959741)
      You do realise how much trouble posting the Scientology creation story here is going to cause, don't you?
  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:35AM (#26030441) Journal

    Perhaps the most terrifying prediction is the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field (combined with untimely solar activity), a periodic event which is currently 1/4 million years overdue.

    From the record of paleomagnetism found in spreading ocean floors, the reversals are anything but periodic. Reversals recur, but the interval between reversals can be less than 25 thousand years, or longer than 35 million years. In other words, the intervals between reversals vary in duration by a factor of more than 1000.

    The oceanic record is limited to the last 200 million years, at most. It has been extended further back by correlating measurements from continental rocks formed at different times, and relying on models for tectonic drift. This naturally yields inferences with lower confidence and limited time resolution. However, the results suggest that geomagnetic field has occasionally been stable for more than 50 million years at a time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_reversal [wikipedia.org]

    Given that their occurrence is erratic rather than periodic, and that there is no decent model for predicting their occurrence, the assertion that a magnetic reversal is "overdue" is absurd.

    The scaremongering that a reversal would lead to "the end of the world" or mass extinctions is equally puerile. Reversals of the geomagnetic field show no particular correlation with extinctions in the past.

  • In my (to be written someday) novel, the Earth is eaten by giant space worms and converted into minerals for the worm farmers to use as food.
  • Soon? Probable ones? (Score:3, Informative)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:43AM (#26030475) Homepage Journal
    Some of those events will happen but in very long time (afaik for sun expanding enough will take some millons of years) or have very low odds to happen or even could be impossible according with our current knowledge (alien invasion? had to be the suggestion of the sci-fi writer).

    Sometimes a chain of events is more possible than a single event, specially if those single events counts on rogue black holes getting very close to us. Global warming (something with a bit higher probabilities to happen) maybe wont end us alone, but it could trigger more things (mass emigration, spreading of diseases, extintions of some key species, war, etc) that eventually could finish the work.
  • ObPortman:

    ".. with thunderous applause"?

  • by Enter the Shoggoth (1362079) on Monday December 08, 2008 @06:44AM (#26030487)

    ... by someone who was both scientist and science fiction author, a little dated now perhaps, but still an excellent read:

    A Choice of Catastrophes [amazon.com]

  • by master_p (608214) on Monday December 08, 2008 @07:57AM (#26030849)

    Overpopulation will kill us all before anything else...resources like oil and metals will be exhausted in the coming decades! the dramatic changes in the climate caused by human activity, the cutting down of rain forests will cause the populations of third world countries to migrate en mass to Europe and North America, further increasing the fights for the remaining resources...

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Monday December 08, 2008 @09:49AM (#26031681) Journal

    Almost invariably when people talk about 'how the world ends' they're actually talking about human extinction. Equating the two is the sort of massive species specific ego trip that prevents people from solving the deadly problems they create, and lets them create more daily by allowing them to evade responsibility. In most scenarios the world, if not the majority of the biosphere, will continue in a more or less normal fashion. Even is such as the planetary collision that created the moon, some parts of the biosphere survived and repopulated the planet. After most of the scenarios the Earth will continue with very little evidence remaining of the very intense but very brief infection of its surface. We might fare better if we took our example from rhinovirus rather than Ebola. Killing your host is not beneficial to survival.

    There's a bit in the new version of 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' that illustrates this problem in human thinking. When asked why he came to "our planet", Klaatu responds incredulously "YOUR planet?"

    The Judeo-Christian argument that 'God gave man dominion over all the animals and plants' makes the same mistake (and is probably to origin of this broken thinking). It is often taken to assume that "dominion" means 'permission to use and abuse at will without repercussion' instead of the more accurate "control or exercise of control; sovereignty". The latter implies responsibility for the outcome due to application of control. No rights exist without a concominant duty. The right to live on this planet requires exercise of the duty to preserve it, at the very least by not using more than the fair share of resources. Argue against it with words all you like, Nature will respond by evolving the biosphere to include or exclude us without saying a word, or listening to our assertions of dominance or pleas for mercy. I'm betting this will be the primary message of TDTESS, with Klaatu standing in for Nature (though I'm betting he ends up cutting us some slack).

    200 years ago Thomas Malthus estimated the sustainable carrying capacity of the human environment to be two and a third billion persons. I haven't seen a convincing argument with a significantly greater estimate that doesn't mistake technology as it is currently practiced (ie. non-renewable) for sustainability. We're less than 1.5 years from having 3 times Malthus's estimate.

    Not with a bang, but with a whimper,
    and a gag and a cough and a choke,
    and pandemics and starvation,
    and "natural" disasters of our own making,
    and the oxymoronic "wars for survival" for dessert.

  • by Per Wigren (5315) on Monday December 08, 2008 @09:54AM (#26031755) Homepage

    USA's war against terrorism triggers world war 3 and the revenge-thirst of both sides cause the whole planet to be destroyed by nuclear weapons.

  • by WayGoneDoug (1199867) on Monday December 08, 2008 @01:37PM (#26035507) Homepage

    For the world to truly end, as in no more planet Earth, scenario 4 is most probable in the near term and scenario 1 inescapable in the long run. If you are defining âoeend of the worldâ as in a major extinction event, with Homo sapiens in a staring roll, then there are a bunch of options. The ones suspected of causing or contributing to major extinction events in the past are outlined in chapter six of my book, The Resilient Earth [amazon.com] (shameless plug). Here are the main ones from the book.

    • Extraterrestrial Impacts — asteroids or comets striking Earth.
    • Massive Volcanoes — in particular the effect on climate.
    • Moving Continents — destruction of habitat due to continental drift.
    • Ice Ages — glaciation, global cooling, lowered sea levels.
    • Disappearing Oxygen — deep water overturn or methane ice.
    • Cosmic Peril — impact of cosmic rays and supernovas.
    • Coincident Causes — the âoemurder on the orient expressâ model. (all of the above).

    Our planet's past is filled with extinctions,some large, some small, some solitary. All the ages in the fossil record chronicle the departure of species from this Earth. The sweep of geologic time, comprising more than 90 recognized time periods, is partitioned by changes in the fossil record. What is most amazing is how gigantic an event has to be to be recorded in the strata. Visit theresilientearth.com [theresilientearth.com]for more information including pdfs of the book chapters and a link to Amazon for purchase of the paperback version.

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Monday December 08, 2008 @04:00PM (#26038101)

    Perhaps the most terrifying prediction is the reversal of the Earth's magnetic field (combined with untimely solar activity), a periodic event which is currently 1/4 million years overdue.

    Geomagnetic field reversals are perhaps "periodic" in the sense that they happen repeatedly over time, but they aren't particularly regular; they have been known to be erratic since the 1960s. The last reversal was ~780Kya, so the contention here seems based on the assumption of a regular ~500Ky pattern. There is no reasonable basis for this assumption, as the past history of reversals has been nowhere near a regular pattern with a 500,000 year cycle.

The moon is a planet just like the Earth, only it is even deader.

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