Oh Yeah — Nature Could Destroy The World Too

The Most Interesting Ways Nature Could Destroy The World

Yes, nature could easily do the job all by itself, with no help from us.  “And that’s why we call them… animals!” 

The Tunguska Event

… which, if it isn’t already a band name, needs to become one NOW — someone call Mike Patton.  Back in 1908, something BIG happened in rural Russia, out in the far part of Siberia, in one of those hard-to-pronounce territories on the Risk board game map.  Something, probably something from space, exploded in the air over a swamp in Siberia with a power far greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Nearby witnesses describe a horrendous explosion, and later explorers found a giant blast zone with leveled trees.  The blast registered 5.0 on the Richter scale, and filled the atmosphere with so much dust that it was detectable from the U.S.  The best guess was that it was a fairly large asteroid or comet chunk that exploded in the lower atmosphere, but more entertaining hypotheses include a black hole tunneling its way through the earth, a chunk of antimatter annihilating once it hits regular-matter Earth, or a result of experiments by Nikola Tesla.
The Moon Go Boom

Back in the 1100′s, some monks in England witnessed (and later chronicled) some sort of explosion on the moon.  They apparently witnessed a gigantic asteroid impact, producing a fireball large enough to be visible with the naked eye from Earth.  After the impact, “the moon throbbed like a giant wounded snake”.  What is this, the start of a p0rno?  I’ll admit, more clever than “Did somebody order a pizza?”  Jack Hartung, a scientist at SUNY Stony Brook, suggests that the present-day crater Giordano Bruno is the remnant of the impact.  Clearly, we now have the name of the star of our moon p0rno.  Needless to say, if that asteroid had hit us instead, we’d be in serious trouble.

Vacuum metastability event

Have you ever microwaved some water, only to have it violently start boiling the instant you pour your instant coffee (or instant malt liquor) in it?  The water is actually hotter than boiling, but “forgot” to boil as it heated up, and will stay liquid as long as it’s treated gently.  Water can actually be heated up a little bit past boiling (or cooled a little below freezing) and can remain in this “meta-stable” state, barely, even though it really wants to be in a different state.  Any bit of jarring, or anything dropped into the water to perturb it, results in a rapid switch out of the barely-stable state to a more stable state, namely ice or water.

Lots of things can be in a “meta-stable” state, which means it’s “stable for now, if you don’t screw around too much”.  Makes sense?  Okay, now imagine that happening to the ENTIRE UNIVERSE.  The thought is that maybe the universe is in some weird “meta-stable” state, but would be happier in a completely different state and could switch at any moment.  Instead of the state being the solid-liquid-gas phases of matter, it would be the very laws of physics of the universe that are in a fragile, “frustrated” state.  If the universe for some reason switched to completely different (and for some reason, more “stable”) laws of physics, it wouldn’t bode well for us — chances are, our very atoms and molecules wouldn’t hold together anymore, or would collapse, or something even more unspeakably weird would occur, and life as we know it would be over.
Planet Mercury

As everyone knows, a dynamical system under the influence of primarily gravitational forces cannot be guaranteed to be stable for more than two bodes.  You know that, right?  Your daughter’s kindergarten class covered that last week.  Psheesh.  What this actually means is that nobody can guarantee that our solar system is stable — there’s a small chance that a planet could swerve from its usual orbit and start bonking into other plantets.  There’s a chance for chaotic behavior, in other words — the planetary orbits could look pretty stable and orderly for a long time, then something could abruptly happen and it all goes to hell.  Several researchers have done numerical simulations showing that it’s possible that Jupiter could nudge poor little Mercury, resulting in 1) Mercury plummeting into the sun, 2) Mercury colliding with Venus, thereby ejecting Mars from the solar system, or 3) Mercury colliding with Earth.  Laskar sez there’s about a 1% chance of something bad happening to Mercury, which probably explains the low property values there.


What’s a “Hypercane”, you ask?  Well, what lame-sounding word would you coin for a super-gigantic mega-hurricane, if you worked for the Sci-Fi (oops, Sy Fy) channel?  A Hypercane is a theoretical uber-hurricane, as wide as the united states, 30 miles high, with winds over 500 mph, with giant slavering fangs that contain powerful lasers.  Apparently it’s the kind of hurricane you could expect if the earth’s oceans were warmer, say by 30 degrees or so.  The extra heat energy would be enough to drive extremely powerful hurricanes that would do a number on your roof’s shingles, maybe break a window or two.  Especially after your house finally lands back on the ground, after being yanked from its foundation and ejected hundreds of miles into space by the HYPERCANE!  We can all do our part to avoid the development of hypercanes, by keeping our oceans cool — from now on, No Peeing in the Ocean!

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