The frightening ways that showcase how fragile we truly are.
When an extremely virulent disease begins infecting large populations, a pandemic is declared by WHO (World Health Organisation). There have been many pandemics in the past, examples being ‘The Black Death’, which was a strain of bubonic plague striking Europe, and the ‘Spanish Flu’ in the 1910s. Influenza is a particular threat – it mutates rapidly and we cannot vaccinate ourselves against it. It has been responsible for decimation of entire populations and is still a threat today. If a hyper-contagious virus were released into the ecosphere it would spread rapidly along transport routes. Aeroplanes would become localised infections, the hosts carrying it to new places. New York, London and other large cities would quickly become abandoned. Pandemics also make excellent films, although the effects are usually exaggerated. (‘I am Legend’ particularly – no virus can turn a person feral while keeping them alive).
Either we could cause the weather or it could be a freak occurrence. Phrases like global warming and climate change are thrown around a lot these days and they can be responsible for some weather changes, but we underestimate nature’s resilience. Neither the less, a new ice age could emerge (although we are still in one), in which most surface life is killed. Again, films like ‘The Day after Tomorrow’ exaggerate the effects.
Gamma ray burst
Even we cannot dodge the light. Gamma rays are emitted from most stars, although our own is pretty docile in that respect, although if a star within a few thousand light years were to go Hypernova (a bigger supernova), the waves of radiation would reach us, practically cooking the surface of the planet. We would have to live underground to survive, but all plant life would certainly die, so we would have to rely on green houses and hydroponics. The frightening thing is that a star near us may have just gone Hypernova, but we won’t know about it until the radiation reaches us.
Nuclear weapons are mankind’s stupidest invention. To quote terry Pratchett – “Never give the monkey the keys to the banana plantation”, and unfortunately we still don’t get on well with one another enough to get rid of them. On declaration of nuclear war, major population centres would be destroyed and satellites would be knocked out of orbit, rendering all devices such as mobile phones and computers useless. Another effect is the raising of several million tonnes of ash and dust into the atmosphere, blacking the skies and wiping out most life.
One of the most well known doomsday scenarios is one we cannot really do anything about. Every year thousands of basketball sized objected hit the Earth. It only takes one a kilometre across to plummet through the atmosphere remains large enough to destroy a city. One that is a few kilometres in diameter hitting the Earth would release the energy of several million nuclear devices.
The least known method of human extinction, strangelets are the result of overly energetic ‘strange’ quarks mixing with ‘up’ and ‘down’ quarks. These stranglets on contact with ordinary matter will convert it to strange matter, and release another strangelet. If one were to hit the Earth, the planet would be reduced to a hot lump of strange matter. Currently they have only been created for thousandths of a second in particle accelerators.
Pretty obvious what would happen. If one were created on Earth the planet would be sucked in, along with the rest of the solar system. However, nobody really knows what goes on inside a black hole, so maybe we would be lucky.
The Bible says in revelations that on Judgement day or Rapture, God will arrive on Earth to judge the living and the dead. Amusingly, if he arrived tomorrow, his work would be duly archived on the internet with thousands of mobile phone pictures and videos.
Re-orientation of Earth’s Axis
Also known as ‘pole shift theory’ this would happen if the Earth changed its axis (currently it rests at 23.5 degrees – this is the reason we have seasons). The north and south poles would flip, not only ruining the GPS system but also causing massive change to the environment and redistributing the oceans across inhabited landmass.
The Big Crunch
The one we cannot escape. Theorised as one of the methods of Universal decay, the Big Crunch is the reverse of the Big Bang. Gravity at the centre of the Universe will overwhelm the expanding force and begin to pull the Universe back to a singularity again. There is no chance of escape from this one – there is nowhere to go. Luckily it is only a theory, and would not happen for billions of years anyway, so we would be long gone.