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Top 10 Ways the Universe Could Kill Us! July 24, 2009

Posted by kfarley in Asteroid, Astronomy, Cosmology.
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Asteroid Impact

Asteroids and other near-Earth objects (NEOs) come near the Earth more frequently than one would guess. Question: Why don’t we ever hear of these objects hitting the Earth? Answer: Because they don’t. More often than not our atmosphere causes great friction on these solar bodies causing them to burn up. This happens before the asteroids can go through our atmosphere and hit the Earth. Our atmosphere can be a good friend to us – protecting us from solar debris that could potentially hit Earth and end civilization as we know it. If an asteroid were to make it through our atmosphere it becomes classified as a meteor. It is theorized that a large meteor hit the Earth about 65 million years ago wiping out the dinosaurs. According to NASA, a meteor about 1/5 that size will hit the Earth about once or twice every million years. If Earth did get hit by an asteroid of that caliber we would most likely not survive. I haven’t heard of an asteroid that size hitting the Earth in quite some time, maybe we’re overdue. With ≈6.7 billion people in the world your chance of seeing the Earth hit by that size meteor is…well, you do the math. To learn more information on NEOs check out NASA’s FAQs.

Illustration of an asteroid that could have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Illustration of an asteroid that could have wiped out the dinosaurs.

Solar Flare

A solar flare is a huge explosion of energy in the Sun’s atmosphere. Think of it like a giant spike of light and heat that suddenly rises off the surface of the Sun. The rays emitted (mainly X-rays and UV rays) from this explosion are strong enough to disrupt radio communication on Earth! The flares can influence the surface of Earth by having an effect on our weather. Just outside our atmosphere, the flares can present radiation hazards to spacecraft and astronauts. The solar flares can also produce streams of highly energetic particles in our atmosphere. These highly energetic particles help in the production of the beautiful aurora borealis! On the other hand, the radiation from solar flares also pose incredible complications that could arise during manned missions to Mars, the Moon, or other space travel. Satellites’ orbital paths can also be disrupted by the solar flares. Kind of a catch-22, amazing Northern lights produced but also possible space travel limit. Hmm…

Aurora borealis co-created by solar flares.

Aurora borealis co-created by solar flares.

Supernova

Ever had someone shine a flashlight in your eyes? Not very nice, huh? Think of shining a light in your eyes a billion times brighter! A supernova is just that – an exploding star billions of times brighter that our Sun. After the core of a star collapses it emits great energy as a flash of growing intensity before fading back out of sight. If a supernova was close enough and aimed toward our solar system, it could wipe out our atmosphere. Our planet would overheat from UV rays causing mass extinction. It’s messy too. The supernova will throw large clouds of dust and gas into space that could exceed 10 times the mass of our Sun. We should be thankful for supernovae in a way. It is hypothesized supernovae created the heavier elements such as gold, iron, and uranium found here on Earth.

Supernova.

Supernova.

Gamma Ray Burst

Gamma ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of gamma rays that last from fractions of a second to almost an hour. They normally last a few seconds and usually come from outside our galaxy. They are the most luminous (electromagnetic) events that occur in the universe. GRBs often have an afterglow affect as longer wavelengths travel from the blast. The blast from a GRB in our galaxy would definitely cause mass extinction from the intense rays that would encompass our planet. It is hypothesized such an event caused the mass planetary extinction on Earth about 444 million years ago. A GRB depleted the ozone layer leaving our planet helpless to direct UV rays that heated and kill organisms until food chains were depleted.

P.S. Gamma rays gave the Hulk his powers (I think that is fictional though).

Illustration of a gamma ray burst hitting a planet like Earth.

Illustration of a gamma ray burst hitting a planet like Earth.

Black hole

Black holes are areas in space in which the gravitational field is so incredible that nothing can escape its pull. Not even light can be reflected from this object, hence its name. It is virtually impossible to escape a black hole once its immense gravitational pull has a hold of you. The point of no return at a black hole is called the horizon. It is an area just outside a black hole where the gravitational pull begins. Once you hit the horizon of a black hole your fate is sealed and escape from the black hole is futile. Knowing not even light can escape the pull of the black hole, you would have to travel faster than the speed of light to escape. If you were to see an object being pulled into a black hole (assuming the object can still reflect light), it would become extremely distorted. The gravitational pull is so intense, the part of the object entering the black hole first would stretch out of normal proportions. For example, if you were floating through space with your arms in front of you (Superman-style) and began to be sucked into a black hole, your arms would stretch out incredibly long before the rest of your body. Black holes are also very massive. They can range anywhere from 10 times to a million times the mass of our Sun. Currently, there are no known black holes in our galaxy. This known with the fact our space travel is limited to our Moon, you are probably safe from a black hole fate.

Illustration of what a black hole over the Milky Way might look like.

Illustration of what a black hole over the Milky Way might look like.

Death of Sun

The Sun goes through different stages during its life cycle. It’s about halfway through the “main sequence” before it goes into a different star phase. The Sun will most likely turn into a Red Giant star peaking at its highest luminosity. The Sun will then start to burn out as it turns into a small dwarf star. The Sun won’t turn into a Red Giant for another 5 billion years or so. A more immediate problem, as the Sun moves toward the next stage it becomes gradually warmer. It will get really hot. Life on Earth most likely won’t make it to the Red Giant stage. The Earth will warm up to the point where life will not be sustainable. The Sun has slowly been warming up ever since its birth. The Sun used to not be as hot, one of the reasons life didn’t always exist on the Earth. Just as the warmth of the Sun allowed life on Earth, it will also take it away.

The life cycle of our Sun.

The life cycle of our Sun.

Heat Death of Universe

The heat death of the universe occurs as all the stars and other universal matter continues to expand and uses up its energy or “burns out.” It’s like letting a candle burn and not blowing it out. Eventually it’s going to use up the wax and wick until it can’t burn anymore. The universe runs on “free” energy that is not endless. At some point the fuel for the universe will run out cutting of the energy for the cosmic bodies that give us life (namely our Sun). This probably won’t be happening anytime soon. It’s estimated the energy will run out after black holes vanish in about 10100 years (according to Hawking’s radiation). That’s one big candle!

The flame of life.

The flame of life.

The Big Rip

Just like how it sounds, all matter of the universe will be ripped apart.  We’ve all heard that the universe is expanding.  What would happen if the expansion increased at an accelerated rate?  If the universe expanded much faster than it is now, all the galaxies, stars, planets, dust, etc. would be ripped apart!  Think of it like a twizzlers.  If you pull slowly you can stretch out the twizzlers pretty far.  If you stretch too fast the twizzlers will just snap in half.  This is a possibility for our universe.  The hands pulling on our universe is something called dark energy.  Dark energy is a hypothetical energy that saturates all our universe.  It is theorized it helps our universe expand – at an accelerating pace.  This means the expansion is moving at a faster and faster rate as time goes by.  Eventually the universe will reach that point where it is pulling to fast, ripping apart everything.  What happens when everything is ripped apart and away from each other?  No one knows.

The Big Rip.

The Big Rip.

Cannibal Galaxies

Cannibal galaxies occur when a smaller galaxy is eaten by a larger galaxy! Natural selection at its best. Galaxies are gravitationally bound collections of stars, stellar bodies such as planets, space dust, and other objects. You are probably most familiar with the Milky Way galaxy (you should know this one, we live in it). Scientists can now detect our Milky Way galaxy is currently tearing apart and engulfing the Sagittarius galaxy as you read this! Closer to home than you might have expected. I guess we are saved this time but poor little Sagittarius galaxy…

Larger galaxy engulfing a smaller galaxy. (Swinburne)

Larger galaxy engulfing a smaller galaxy. (Swinburne)

Pulsar

When a star collapses on itself a neutron star is left behind. If we were to survive this giant explosion, we would have a new problem of pulsars to deal with. A pulsar is a neutron star that emits rays of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation is rays that vary depending on their frequency and wavelength. Some rays provide us with the visible light we use every day. Other rays below or above the spectra can be very harmful to us. For instance, radio waves (beyond red in the visible spectra) can vibrate the cells in your body heating them up to a deadly temperature while gamma rays (beyond blue in the visible spectra) can stop the function of the cells in your body. Oddly enough, both radio waves and gamma rays are used to treat different ailments.

The Vela Pulsar. NASA pic.

The Vela Pulsar. NASA pic.

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Comments»

1. robert - August 19, 2009

its very great…

2. Jason Chambers - September 22, 2009

Sweet, the ten different ways the universe can kick your butt.

3. pokadot - October 7, 2009

gamma rays, my most worrys ……

4. Ms Becky - October 23, 2009

wow scary

5. Abby - December 3, 2009

If it happens so be it. I dont wanna die. Maybe this is one of the ways 2012 will happen.): I dont wanna die though.

6. mrs cook - December 4, 2009

wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. amazing ❤

7. crossmancommunicates - February 5, 2010

Fascinating! We are all citizens of space and while the beauty is palpable, the danger is humbling. The more we know about where we live, the more we will appreciate every moment of life on this planet.

8. Vinu Isaac - March 2, 2010

Thanka a lot… I got all the information I wanted.. Im supposed to give a seminar on this topic in my college..

9. medina hadzic - May 6, 2010

wow this stuff really helped me on my 4th grade science project and it made me think how much i want to be an astronomer someday

10. matimus prime - May 20, 2010

nice, great information, one thing that should be changed, there are actually 2 black holes in our galaxy. other than that, a great and interesting read.

jcconwell - May 24, 2010

Well if by solar mass black holes ~ 3 to 30 times the mass of the sun there are millions, but only one supermassive one detected at the center of the galaxy near Sagittarius A*

11. Mr.Paganini - July 14, 2010

The super massive black hole was detected at the center of the galaxy Andromeda not Sagittarius O___O”

jcconwell - July 14, 2010

The one in Sagittarius is the super massive black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy

12. Konstantinos - October 9, 2010

You know what… I want mankind to live the 1e^100 and not the finite amount we can on earth….Let’s start colonizing planets we have a whole thirty-two-lionth ahead of us! When we can produce energy from fusion, we will be able to make anti-particles of hydrogen which trapped in a magnetic field separate from normal hydrogen will be slowly combined to send our spaceships traveling at nearly the speed of light! (putting anti-particles together makes explosions 100-1000 times bigger than hydrogen bombs…Effective fuel isn’t it?

13. makaela - June 5, 2012

I got scared for a minute, but then I realized that I’m eventually going to die any way. I dont want to but I wont want to live for ever. I’ll enjoy where I am today.

14. Person - January 6, 2013

Well, no time like the present! All take physics and focus on space exploration; eventually, we’ll have to cut all this politics and money crap and concentrate on dominating the galaxy.

P.S. Damn nature, you scary!


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