Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'The End Of The World' Has Already Begun, UW Scientists Say

Date:
January 30, 2003
Source:
University Of Washington
Summary:
In its 4.5 billion years, Earth has evolved from its hot, violent birth to the celebrated watery blue planet that stands out in pictures from space. But in a new book, two noted University of Washington astrobiologists say the planet already has begun the long process of devolving into a burned-out cinder, eventually to be swallowed by the sun.

In its 4.5 billion years, Earth has evolved from its hot, violent birth to the celebrated watery blue planet that stands out in pictures from space. But in a new book, two noted University of Washington astrobiologists say the planet already has begun the long process of devolving into a burned-out cinder, eventually to be swallowed by the sun.

By their reckoning, Earth's "day in the sun" has reached 4:30 a.m., corresponding to its 4.5 billion-year age. By 5 a.m., the 1 billion-year reign of animals and plants will come to an end. At 8 a.m. the oceans will vaporize. At noon -- after 12 billion years -- the ever-expanding sun, transformed into a red giant, will engulf the planet, melting away any evidence it ever existed and sending molecules and atoms that once were Earth floating off into space.

"The disappearance of our planet is still 7.5 billion years away, but people really should consider the fate of our world and have a realistic understanding of where we are going," said UW astrophysicist Donald Brownlee. "We live in a fabulous place at a fabulous time. It's a healthy thing for people to realize what a treasure this is in space and time, and fully appreciate and protect their environment as much as possible."

In "The Life and Death of Planet Earth," Brownlee and UW paleontologist Peter Ward use current scientific understanding of planets and stars, as well as the parameters of life, to provide a glimpse of the second half of life on Earth and what comes after.

The book, a sort of biography of our planet, is being published today by Times Books, a division of Henry Holt and Co. It is a sequel to Ward and Brownlee's best-selling and much-discussed book "Rare Earth," in which they put forth the hypothesis that simple life is relatively common in the universe but complex, Earth-like life is exceedingly rare.

"The Life and Death of Planet Earth" explains how the myriad life on Earth today was preceded by a long period of microbial dominance, and the authors contend that complex life eventually will disappear and be succeeded again by a period of only microbial life. They say that higher life will be removed much as it came into being, ecosystem by ecosystem. Aspects of the planet's past, such as numbingly cold ice ages, will be relived in the period of devolution.

"If we do begin to slide into the next glacial cycle, there probably are grand, planetary-scale engineering projects that might stop or lessen the effects," Ward said.

"The big unknowns are whether we can afford to do such projects and would we really know what to do. If the planet was cooling, we could, in principle, begin painting the surface black to collect more heat. Could we afford it? And what would be the many possible ramifications of a planet suddenly covered in black paint? Any planetary remediation project would always run the risk of making things worse."

Eventually, though, scorching heat will drive land creatures to the sea for respite. Those that can adapt will survive for a time, but eventually the oceans will warm too much for the complex life forms to continue.

"The last life may look much like the first life -- a single-celled bacterium, survivor and descendant of all that came before," the authors write. Finally, even the surviving microbes "will be seared out of existence."

The prospects of humans surviving by moving to some other habitable planet or moon aren't good, Brownlee and Ward contend, because even if such a place were found, getting there would be a huge obstacle. Various probes sent into space could survive Earth's demise, and just a few grams of material could arguably carry a DNA sample from every human, they say, but it's not likely the human species itself will survive. Long before the planet's final end, life will become quite challenging, and finally impossible, for humans.

As the sun gets hotter and grows in size, it will envelop Mercury and Venus. It is possible it will stop just short of Earth, the authors say, but the conditions still would make this a most-inhospitable planet. More likely, though, the sun will consume Earth as well, severing all the chemical bonds between molecules and sending its individual atoms out into space, perhaps eventually to form new planets. That would leave Mars as the nearest planet to the sun, and on Mars the fading sun's glow would be like that of Earth's moon.

That end is still some 7.5 billion years distant, but by then Earth will have faced a variety of "ends" along the way, the authors say. The last dinosaur perished long ago. Still to come are the last elephant, the last tree, the last flower, the last glacier, the last snowflake, the last ocean, the last life.

"The Life and Death of Planet Earth" is like its predecessor, "Rare Earth," in that the authors collected and distilled some of the latest scientific ideas about the Earth's place in the universe, Brownlee said. He hopes the new book, like "Rare Earth," will spark widespread discussion, and give people a fundamental and realistic view of the past and future of their planet.

"It's a healthy thing to think of the place of Earth among the other planets, and its place in the sun. The sun gave life and ultimately it will bring death."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Washington. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Washington. "'The End Of The World' Has Already Begun, UW Scientists Say." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 January 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/01/030130083318.htm>.
University Of Washington. (2003, January 30). 'The End Of The World' Has Already Begun, UW Scientists Say. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/01/030130083318.htm
University Of Washington. "'The End Of The World' Has Already Begun, UW Scientists Say." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/01/030130083318.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-Fuel Impala

3BL Media (Oct. 20, 2014) Hey, Doc! Sewage, Beer and Food Scraps Can Power Chevrolet’s Bi-fuel Impala Video provided by 3BL
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

White Rhino's Death In Kenya Means Just 6 Are Left

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) Suni, a rare northern white rhino at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, died Friday. This, as many media have pointed out, leaves people fearing extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

Beijing Marathon Runners Brave Hazardous Air Pollution

AFP (Oct. 19, 2014) Tens of thousands of runners battled thick smog at the Beijing Marathon on Sunday, with some donning masks as the levels of PM2.5 small pollutant particles soared to 16 times the maximum recommended level. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins