I thought we'd have at least 5 billion years (starting today) before the end of life on earth, but it now seems this is a tad optimistic.
Some days it's just not worth getting out of bed. If you'd asked me yesterday, I'd have said that we had at least 5 billion years to go before the Sun starts to die, expands, and wipes out life on Earth.
Today, I received an email from my friend Wilfried in the Netherlands pointing me at an interesting article on The Science Daily website. This article – Sun Will Vaporize Earth Unless We Can Change Our Orbit – starts off on a (relatively) positive note by informing us that new calculations by University of Sussex astronomers predict that the Earth will be swallowed up by the Sun in about 7.6 billion years unless we find a way to alter its orbit.
So far so good. This will give me time to do my laundry, make my bed, and get my affairs inorder. But then we're informed that: "Life on Earth will have disappeared long before 7.6 billion years." What? Well, it seems that the Sun's slow expansion will cause the temperature at the surface of the Earth to rise to the extent that the oceans will boil dry and the water vapour will escape into space.
In short, we have only a billion years before the Earth is reduced to a hot, dry, and uninhabitable ball.
This is obviously something of a downer. But turn that frown upside down into a smail because all is not yet lost. It seems that a team at Santa Cruz University have a plan to use the gravitational effects of a close passage by a large asteroid to "nudge" the Earth's orbit gradually outwards away from the Sun. They say that a suitable passage every 6000 years or so would be sufficient to keep the Earth habitable for at least 5 billion years. In fact, we might even survive the Sun's giant red phase.
Sad to relate, my joy was short-lived. I was just about to don my party hat and commence the festivities when I read a little further and saw a cautionary note that a slight miscalculation could cause the asteroid to hit the Earth: "with catastrophic consequences."
Come on! Give me a break! I'm too young for all of this!
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at firstname.lastname@example.org). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.