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Thursday, January 16, 2014
Doomsday Scenarios: 13 Ways The World Could End Today
Original source : http://www.trutv.com
"One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day." It was
true back in the late 1950s, and it's just as true now. The world could end at
any moment thanks to the countless nukes out there, just lying around.
According to a 2010 Ploughshares Fund report, 22,000 active nuclear warheads
are scattered around the globe. And that number doesn't include smaller - and
therefore more susceptible to theft - nuclear weapons like atomic artillery
shells and bunker busters. In truth, we're still exactly where we've been for
the past 70 years: one international argument away from the end of the world.
Stars collapse on an almost daily basis. When a massive star
collapses, it produces an immense gravitational pull along the way, drawing
everything in its path - including light - toward its core, like a giant vacuum
cleaner from which there's no escape. While black holes sit at the center of
most galaxies, including our own, the real danger comes from a discovery made
in the year 2000. "We now have conclusive evidence," physicist
Michael Kaku told ABC News, "that there are wandering black holes - nomads,
renegades - and right next to us in our own galaxy." How long until one of
these nomads bumps into the Earth? No one is sure, and it's a big universe, but
everyone agrees that it's going to happen sooner or later.
What if the programming of billions of tiny self-replicating
robots - nanobots in the technical parlance - suddenly went awry? And instead of
doing the job for which they were built (like mopping up an oil spill), they
started consuming all matter on Earth - while building more of themselves? In his
1986 book, Engines of Creation, nanotech pioneer Eric Drexler describes it this
way: "Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making
copies of itself... the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand
seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds,
the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of
ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In
less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would
outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the
Sun and all the planets combined."
Gamma-ray bursts are high-energy beams of electromagnetic
radiation shot out of a supernova, or exploding star. Researchers say a routine
gamma-ray burst within 3,000 light years of the Earth would release more than
enough radiation to completely cook our planet. Talk about global warming.
A strangelet - short for "strange nugget" - is a bit
of "strange matter" that scientists are hunting for with particle
accelerators. When strange matter encounters normal matter, it turns normal
matter into strange matter. Now, normally, strange matter decays in
microseconds and doesn't cause much harm. But it's theoretically possible for a
chunk to stabilize. If that happens it would start turning all nearby matter
into strange matter - and it wouldn't stop. In an instant the "normal"
Earth would be replaced by the "strange" Earth, which scientists
strongly suspect would be inhospitable to all known life forms, including us.
Smallpox, plague, anthrax, tularemia, brucellosis, Q fever
and your coworkers' bad breath. These are just a handful of deadly pathogens
that have already been made into bio-weapons. Any of these, especially with a
little amount of genetic tinkering to make strains more virulent, would have
the potential to end life as we know it. But that's the devil we do know.
Biologist Craig Venter, known for sequencing the human genome, recently created
the world's first synthetic life form. Pretty soon we'll be genetically
engineering bugs that no one has ever seen and to which no one has any
natural-born immunity. If one of those suckers should get loose, it'll make the
bubonic plague seem like a case of the sniffles.
Mini Black Holes
That pesky Large Hadron Collider. It's full of downsides - and
none are more disturbing than the possibility of its creating mini black holes.
Theoretically, Hawking's radiation should dissolve these holes instantly, but
no one knows for certain that Hawking's radiation works on the micro scale. And
if it doesn't, that hole can start bouncing around the Earth, essentially
dicing the planet into pieces. English astrophysicist Martin Rees said it's a
1-in-50-million chance that it could happen. But what if he's overestimated the
odds - or we're just unlucky?
Particle accelerators produce matter. They also produce
antimatter. When matter and antimatter bump into each other, the result is
total annihilation. While antimatter doesn't normally float around our
atmosphere, it can be manufactured in small amounts inside a particle
accelerator - including the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.
Manufacture enough of it, release it into the atmosphere - purposely or
accidentally - and, well, it's goodnight and good luck for everyone.
Supervolcanoes are a bit like Mount
Saint Helens on steroids. The explosion of such a giant volcano
would pump enough ash and sulfuric acid into the atmosphere to blot out the sun
and bring on a sequel to the ice age - and no, we don't mean another one of those
animated movies. Scientists calculate that 71,500 years ago, a Sumatran
supervolcano exploded, plunging the Earth into a decade-long volcanic
winter," the effects of which reduced the total human population to less
than 10,000 individuals. Worse, Sumatra's is
just one of six known supervolcanos. Another, the largest in the world, is at Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, scientists
have discovered that Yellowstone's erupts
roughly once every 600,000 years, with the last explosion occurring 630,000
years ago - meaning we're a little overdue.
Loss of Biodiversity
Currently, life on Earth is dying as never before. One
quarter of all mammals now face extinction, while 90 percent of the large fish
are already gone. If present trends continue, one-half of Earth's animal
species will have vanished within a hundred years. According to a warning
issued by UN officials at the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity, so
dependent are humans on the services of plants and animals (for everything from
pollination of food crops to protection against disease to cleaning our air and
water) that unless this loss of biodiversity is halted, humans will likely join
this list of extinctions.
Solar flares are jets of plasma shooting out of the sun. In
1859, British astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed the greatest one on
record: telegraph lines were electrified, shocking technicians, causing fires
and shutting the entire system down. Nothing similar has happened since, but
solar flares move in cycles and we're due for stormy solar weather sometime
circa 2012. This is not good news. A 2009 NASA-funded study by the National
Academy of Sciences entitled Severe Space Weather Events said: "A contemporary
repetition of the Carrington Event would cause... extensive social and economic
disruptions." How extensive? A solar flare coming upon today's vast and
interconnected power grid could cause massive outages, radio blackouts,
satellite malfunctions, telecommunication-system meltdowns, a banking and
financial-systems collapse, air-traffic control screens turned to fuzz - and on
Ever since scientists figured out that it was the impact of
an asteroid 10 kilometers wide that wiped out the dinosaurs, they've been
hunting the skies for species-ending space rocks. An estimated 90 percent of
these 3,200-foot-long big boys have been found, although none pose immediate
danger. But we've barely begun drawing our map of the smaller rocks and therein
lies the real problem. In 1908, an asteroid less than 40 meters wide exploded
over Siberia, leveling forests for hundreds of
square miles. If that had happened above New York,
well, goodbye Gotham.
It's a big universe and statistically (at least) we're
probably not alone in it. So what happens if visitors from outer space do show
up? Well, they could come in peace or they could be here sport hunting or
wanting our resources or carrying diseases to which we have no immunity - each of
which could spell doom for the human race. And if these advanced invaders treat
us anything like humans treat other cultures - well, the prognosis is decidely