The End Of The World, And We Know It
September 28, 2013

The End Of The World, And We Know It

All right. Hold on. I’m about to tell you the secret to the end of the world, or at least when the end of the world will happen. Are you ready for this? Here goes:

redOrbit writer Brett Smith recently reported about a team of UK scientists who have “determined that the sun’s growing intensity will lead to the evaporation of the oceans and end of life on Earth in about 1.8 to 3.2 billion years.” Yep, in over a billion years, the sun’s heat will make our dear planet Earth uninhabitable somewhere between 1.75 and 3.25 billion years from now.

This study lends importance to calculating the development and subsistence of complex life forms on planets within a star’s habitable zone, which refers to the area far enough from a star to produce and maintain life. As PBS explains, the habitable zone consists of “planets close enough to the sun for solar energy to drive the chemistry of life — but not so close as to boil off water or break down the organic molecules on which life depends.”

Just how did the UK team of researchers determine this? Well, redOrbit explains that they did the following: “Using planets outside the Solar System and their stars as a model, the UK team considered our distance from the sun, its predicted growth and the temperatures that allow for a planet to have liquid water while making their forecast.”

So, in about one to three billion years, Earth will no longer hold life on it. However, long before that end of the world, humans will run out of time because even a small increase in the Earth’s temperature would lead to the beginning of the end of human life as well as life for many other plants and animals. As study author Andrew Rushby explains, “near the end only microbes in niche environments would be able to endure the heat.”

On the one hand, this is good news. Billions of years are a long, long time. On the other hand, though, this kind of prophetic research is weird. Though I trust science for the most part, this is still just speculation. And who knows what could happen to speed this process up? Already we see the effects of climate change due to what is happening on Earth. If even a small change occurs outside of Earth, we could be in great trouble sooner rather than later.

I guess what I find to be particularly important in this study is not when the Earth will stop being habitable, but the way this data could be used to help astronomers find other planets of habitability. Still, scientists think that Mars is our best bet for a near planet that humans could immigrate to in the future, but perhaps this UK study team can use its data on the habitable zone to find other planets in other solar systems.

Of course, our current technology would prevent us from really going to another solar system, but who knows what the future of space travel will bring? I mean, if Matt Groening can imagine a world like Futurama, then surely scientists can figure out how to make space travel just that easy. Until then, though, at least we know we have quite some time before we have to take action.

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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