December 21st is looming, and according to the Mayan calendar, this date could mark the end of the world. On this date, the 5125 year-long calendar comes to an abrupt end, leading many to believe that the end of the world is nigh. Is it true? How and when will the apocalypse strike?
Approximately 13 million years ago, we as humans went our separate way from chimpanzee ancestors and since then scattered over the face of all continents. Though we have been living on Earth since then, contemporary civilisation has its origins in the last 200 years. Our modest steps have grown to leaps thanks to the discoveries of science: as Michio Kaku explains, “the more we know, the faster we can know more”. The discovery of gravitational force led to the invention of steam machines; electromagnetic force improved our towns and houses; nuclear force even more greatly increased the power available to a single person. All these scientific achievements made us feel like we have conquered all of Earth’s mysteries. But can we survive disasters? Can we actually eliminate them?
All these scientific achievements made us feel like we have conquered all of Earth’s mysteries.
Extinction is characteristic of all known previously existing civilisations. Is it inevitable of our own? Many scientists think so, comparing modern humans to teenagers, who run totally reckless lifestyle with no outlook for the future. They point out that we are harming the environment and ourselves, unthinking of the potential catastrophes of our future. Such disasters could be self-inflicted or completely natural, with ideas ranging from a new ice age, asteroid collision, zombie apocalypse, the death of the sun, the death of our galaxy and the death of the entire universe.
The discovery of uranium was a major achievement of science, solving our power supply problems. But, in their discovery, scientists also discovered a means of annihilation of mankind. Despite awareness of the consequences of unleashing a huge amount of energy conserved in a nucleus, nations continue to intimidate each other with threat of nuclear missiles.
A new ice age, asteroid collision, zombie apocalypse, the death of the sun, the death of our galaxy and the death of the entire universe.
It’s a frightening thought that we may perish through our own foolishness and greediness, but perhaps more scary is the fact that we may vanish as a result of something we have no control over – an ice age. Our technologies are undoubtably advanced, but modern computers still struggle to forecast tomorrow’s weather: there is literally no way to predict when a new ice age could strike.
Collision with celestial objects such as a asteroids or comets is another possibility. About 65 million years ago, one of these asteroids successfully landed on Earth, famously leading to the extinction of dinosaurs. Today, estimates show that there are around 300,000 asteroids that cross the earth’s orbit. If an asteroid is detected in the nearby vicinity, we could get rid with a hydrogen bomb. But this could result in the explosion of a supernova, releasing a colossal amount of energy and blacking out all electrical gadgets, spreading panic and chaos across continents. Unfortunately, there won’t be ample time to pack a suitcase and escape by spacecraft.
Today, estimates show that there are around 300,000 asteroids that cross the earth’s orbit.
The next source of danger is our Sun. According to experts, the Sun just celebrated its 5 billionth birthday and will remain a star for the next 5 billion years. When the Sun uses all its hydrogen, it will begin to extend, engulfing everything until the orbit of Earth will be within the Sun’s atmosphere. In this instance, there should be enough warning for us to escape, and hopefully by this time we will be exploring another inhabitable planet.
All of these events are real possibilities, but none are likely to happen on the 21st of December. However, while there is no danger today, it is explicit that the future of tomorrow is down to us.
If you’re still concerned that the apocalypse is approaching, look out for our article on surviving the end of the world coming soon…
Image: Michael Lehenbauer via Flickr