2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Twelve

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Well if the Mayan calendar is to be believed our world will come to an end tomorrow on December 21, 2012. We’ve looked at many possible ways that we and our planet can be destroyed these past twelve months. Many of the methods ranged from the mundane and likely (viruses and war) to the bizarre and improbable (zombies and aliens). So without further ado, let’s examine one last scenario for the apocalypse and go right to the source and other beliefs.

Doomsday Scenario No. 1: Prophecies

calendarMany have panicked over the supposed end of our world after looking at the ancient Mayan calendar. The reason is that the intricate calendar (known as the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar) comes to an end on December 21, 2012 so people assume that it means the world will end. How would it happen? As with all prophecies that is open to interpretation. Even the date is open to interpretation among scholars. Many believe that our world will face a collision with another planet or that we will feel the effects of a galactic realignment, which would cause disastrous gravitational effects on our solar system. Others think that the magnetic poles will reverse plunging us into chaos or another ice age. Inspired by all these theories the film 2012 showed an Earth imperiled when a massive solar flare caused neutrinos to heat up the Earth’s core temperature, and led to a range of super disasters. On TV there are scores of special programs, usually on The History Channel or Discovery Channel, devoted to the Mayan prophecies.

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But closer examinations reveal that the ancient Mayans didn’t believe that their calendar’s end meant that the world was doomed. Rather, they felt the event signified the end of one era and the start of another. Some feel that we will enter a new age of enlightenment–and given the recent tragedies and tensions we’ve suffered perhaps it’s better to approach the unknown with a renewed sense of hope.

But many others tend to be pessimistic about the future or at least believe we will go through much more hardship before entering paradise. That is a basic tenet of Christian belief. The Bible’s Book of Revelations concerns itself with what is to come and that is the ultimate battle between good and evil.

The events covered in Revelations are truly cataclysmic and world changing. Basically, Satan and his minions like the Antichrist will come to Earth and have a final war against those who worship God. According to Revelations, Satan will be defeated and a new era of paradise and peace will come.

left behindThere have been several notable fiction books that dwell on Christian beliefs of the apocalypse. One of the most recent was the popular Left Behind books written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The book series begins with the true believers of Christ undergoing the Rapture and instantly being taken to heaven. During the chaos of the sudden disappearance of multitudes the Antichrist comes to power in the form a Romanian politician who becomes secretary-general of the United Nations. The series follows the quest of several people who try to prepare for the coming judgment from God and the End Times.

The Left Behind books have been adapted into a film trilogy that starred Kirk Cameron. Other films and TV shows also dealt with the coming End Times and the concept of Satan or the Devil coming to Earth. There are The Omen films, which center on the character of Damien supernaturalThorn, who is revealed to be the Antichrist; the TV show Supernatural, where in its middle seasons dealt with Lucifer entering Earth and triggering the apocalypse. Some more films include The Seventh Sign, Prince Of Darkness and End Of Days. In all of them, the main characters forcibly confront the fact that the world could come to an end due to demonic forces and they have to save the Earth and humanity.

Other cultures and religions have their own belief systems of how the world will end, many of which go back thousands of years. One of the better known ones are the ancient Norse beliefs about Ragnarok where Norse gods like Thor will have a final battle against their foes and die. Afterwards, the world will be flooded and eventually will rise from the waters and be repopulated by surviving gods and two humans. Ancient Egyptian beliefs held that the world will eventually end after a series of renewals and return to a primeval state. This is covered in the found Book of the Dead.

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While it may be easy to give in to the pessimistic nature of these doomsday scenarios, it is important to realize that many of them also signify a sense of renewal and enlightenment. They just reinforce the notion that everything in life is finite and cyclical as well. Also these scenarios can be seen as a warning to us to prevent these horrors from happening. While it’s highly unlikely that the world will end on December 21, it will come to an end someday via some of the scenarios covered in these past twelve months. To think otherwise is just being arrogant. While some may choose to give in to their fears it’s important to cherish and treasure what is truly important in life and to celebrate it. Until then, to help pass the time before we all step into the unknown future here is a video featuring a taste of doomsday.

José Soto, special thanks to GEO and C.S. Link for their contributions with the Doomsday Scenarios articles

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2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Eleven

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Ever since the first atom bomb was detonated people became aware of our capacity to bring about our own extinction. One of the big fears spawning from the splitting of the atom was the likelihood of scientific accidents bringing about our downfall. Being that we’re so prone to making mistakes, it’s easy to worry that such destructive power has fallen on our clumsy hands.

Doomsday Scenario No. 2: Accidents Happen

The idea of a loaded gun given to a child is an apt metaphor of this doomsday scenario. Many people feel that we as a species are developing way too fast in terms of science and technology before we’re ready to truly understand the implications of new discoveries. By that concern, they point to our recent history with nuclear power.

Nuclear Fears

One of humanity’s deepest fears is that of an accidental nuclear weapons exchange. While it’s true the world powers that possess nuclear weapons have stringent safeguards there are the nagging doubt about their reliability. Back in the 1990s after the Cold War ended it became notoriously easy to acquire nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union. The thought of such WMDs in the wrong hands is horrifying. But there is the possibility of failed safeguards. This was seen in the film and book Fail-Safe where U.S. bombers are mistakenly sent to bomb the Soviet Union. Despite all efforts, Moscow is destroyed and to avert World War III, the U.S. president arranges to restore the balance by having New York City nuked. A similar situation happened in the Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove but to a more comedic effect. Accidental nuclear war has also been the subjects of many songs like Nena’s “99 Luftballons” (“99 Red Balloons”) or Men At Work’s “It’s A Mistake”. But what is deeply chilling is that many times military personnel and governments almost used nuclear weapons by mistake. One such incident happened in the mid 1990s when a rocket test launched in Europe was mistaken by Russia to be a nuclear first strike against them and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin was urged by his military to launch a nuclear counter-attack.

chernobylThen there are the problems with nuclear fission used as an energy source. For the most part, nuclear power plants are safe but the idea of a meltdown and the environmental impact is enough to keep most people leery about them. There was the Three Mile Island incident which thankfully ended well, but on the other hand we’ve had a nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl and most recently there was the Fukushima disaster in Japan. With Chernobyl that disaster left that city abandoned and uninhabitable to this day, while the impact of the Fukushima meltdown is still ongoing with an untold number of people having been exposed to deadly radiation.

Tomorrow’s Experiments

In the world of science fiction, wondrous discoveries and promising experiments often turn into worldwide disasters. In the film The Quiet Earth, a scientist working for a company worked on a global energy grid. What happens next is that the experiment makes all the people, except for the scientist and two other persons, disappear without a trace. At the end of The Quiet Earth, the scientist tries to undo the effect of his experiment but the result leaves him stranded in another reality by himself.

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In Kurt Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle, there is an artificial substance called ice-nine which is a type of water that is solid at room temperature. By the novel’s end, ice-nine is accidently released into the ocean which turns practically all the water in the world into solid ice and nearly all life on the planet ends a few days later.

Some scientific experiments and discoveries aren’t as world devastating as those found in The Quiet Earth and Cat’s Cradle, but they come close. In the book FlashForward, an experiment at CERN (European Organization For Nuclear Research) regarding Higgs boson particles unleashes a side effect wherein the entire world population briefly loses consciousness and experiences a few moments of the future. In the TV show based on the book, CERN isn’t responsible for the blackouts but rather a consortium of sinister scientists.

Then there are the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. In the books and films, dinosaurs are brought back to life through cloning and chaos erupts. The humans are unable to control the dinosaurs in the upcoming Jurassic Park theme park, and this results with the unhindered dinosaurs driving out humans from the park. In the sequel book The Lost World and the film Jurassic Park III dinosaurs are multiplying and beginning to move past their island boundaries. This was dramatically shown at the end of Jurassic Park III when several pteranodons are shown flying out of their island. If dinosaurs were to invade other territories, they would decimate local flora and threaten humanity. Basically our world could turn into a monster film where humanity is at war with giant creatures.

Scientific WMDs

Sometimes the plot lines in these tales has it that the military is secretly testing new weapons or devices with unexpected results. The urban legend about the Philadelphia Experiment details how supposedly during World War II the U.S. Navy performed an experiment onboard the U.S.S. Eldridge to render it invisible but harmed the sailors onboard. A film based on the incident also called The Philadelphia Experiment took the premise a step further and the experiment threatened the Earth when it created a vortex.

The military is also responsible for the catastrophes that ravage the world in the movie The Core. It turns out that after testing a seismic weapon by the U.S. military, the Earth’s core stops rotating, which begins to collapse the protective electromagnetic field  surrounding the world. As the heroes in The Core journey to the Earth’s center to explode nukes that will restart the core’s rotation (!), electromagnetic storms raze the world and structures like the Golden Gate Bridge and the Roman Coliseum are destroyed.

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This fear about the military experimenting with secret weapons and technology is influenced by their secretive nature and the fact that so little is known about them. Take the H.A.A.R.P. (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) project for example. Reportedly, its purpose is to study the ionosphere for applications in advanced communications and surveillance. A lot of conspiracy theorists are convinced that H.A.A.R.P. is being used to create natural disasters like superstorms and earthquakes. Some even claim that it was used a week before the recent U.S. presidential election to create Superstorm Sandy so that the president had an opportunity to appear presidential and win the election. H.A.A.R.P. has also been used in fiction like The X-Files and in several Marvel comics.

Mini Holes and Goo

Some worry that uncontrolled or careless science experiments could lead to the decimation of food, water and oil supplies (in the case of water, this was presented in Cat’s Cradle). But two dominant concerns have arisen about consequential scientific research.

grey gooIn addition to Jurassic Park, author Michael Crichton also penned a book called Prey which was also about technology run amok. In Prey’s case, it was nanotechnology which worries many scientists. Nanobots are recognized as the next step in medical technology. Tiny self-multiplying robots that are invisible to the naked eye can be injected into patients to treat them for cancers and other ailments more effectively than with conventional methods. The same nanotechnology also has other applications but all of this is in the research phase.

One drawback with nanobots is that people may lose control over the self-replicating machines. This would result in out-of-control and rapid propagation. The nanobots will then consume all matter to self-multiply which results in the grey goo phenomenon. In that case unhindered, runaway nanobots will turn everything on Earth into shapeless masses. Grey goo has also covered in other novels like Wil McCarthy’s Bloom and Greg Bear’s The Forge Of God.

Another developing concern has to do with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which is the world’s largest particle accelerator. Many fear that the Collider can create mini black holes in the Earth as it collides protons together at near light speeds. Once the miniature black holes are created, they will grow and consume the Earth. However, this hasn’t happened and probably won’t. Scientists believe that any micro black holes will dissipate and actually these proton collisions take place naturally in our atmosphere and we’re still here.

 black hole 2

These micro black holes have plagued several science fiction stories and books like the novel Earth by David Brin is about an artificially created black hole that burrows itself in the planet’s interior which threatens the Earth. Other examples include Larry Niven’s The Hole Man and The Borderland Of Sol, Dan Simmons’ books Ilium and Olympos, and Martin Caidin’s Star Bright.

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It was also feared that the Collider would also create strangelets or strange matter. This subatomic matter is largely theoretical but if they were to be formed they would tear holes on our planet. The novel Impact by Douglas Preston has an alien machine that creates strangelets and the TV special End Day featured a scenario where a created strangelet destroyed the Earth.

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Ten

Among the many well-known apocalyptic worries, the idea of supernatural creatures rising up and destroying our world, while hardly unlikely, captivates many people.

Doomsday Scenario No. 3: Vampires, Zombies & Monsters, Oh My!

Supernatural monsters have been a mainstay in many cultures going back centuries. They were convenient scapegoats for things that went wrong and filled in the dark void of the shadows. These monsters either won so that a moral could be learned or were vanquished by the forces of good. Lately, stories have appeared where the monsters have triumphed and defeated humanity en masse. Certain monsters are more popular than others and fit into a doomsday scenario more easily than others. Of course, these supernatural monsters are impossible, right? Well science fiction has found ways to make them plausible.

Vampires In The Blood

The stylish and grotesque vampires have populated many blood curdling tales for centuries. As true creatures of the night, vampires arose from their coffins after sunset to prey on the living. The way to become a vampire isn’t to just die but to be bitten by one. That suggests that these creatures probably transmit a virus that transforms a living person into a vampire.

Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend has a vampiric virus decimating humanity and resurrecting them as vampires and taking over the world. The book and the films based on it (The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and most recently I Am Legend) presented us with an empty, decimated world with a sole human survivor and his desperate fight not just against countless vampires but to develop a cure.  There are other works about viruses that turns people into vampires and imperils the world. Two books that come to mind are The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan and The Passage by Justin Cronin. The Passage is set in the near future where a virus quickly transforms most of humanity into vampire-like creatures who take over the world. The anthology novel Under The Fang features several short stories about humanity conquered by vampires.

As for films about vampires ruling the world, in addition to I Am Legend, there was Daybreakers, which took place a few years after a virus turned most of humanity into bloodsucking creatures. Daybreakers showed a world literally turned upside down as the vampire denizens populated major cities, but lived underground away from the sun and basically carried on with their lives. They just needed to farm the few remaining humans for nourishment. A variant of the vampire virus is the sci-fi film Lifeforce, which was based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. This time vampire-like aliens were brought back to Earth by astronauts and it wasn’t blood that the aliens fed on. It was the titular lifeforce of people. As an added bonus, many of their victims also became vampiric and hunted humans for their lifeforce.

Zombie Apocalypse

The undead flesh eaters are undeniably the most popular monsters to use for post-apocalyptic tales. Look no further than the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. It wasn’t always so, until the late 1960s zombies were relegated to stale horror yarns usually dealing with voodoo. Then George Romero came along and changed the sub-genre forever. His classic film Night Of The Living Dead gave us a world on the brink of a societal breakdown as undead corpses roamed the countryside and feasted on the living.

Romero directed sequels that were very popular but the zombie apocalypse genre didn’t reach maturation until around the millennium, which coincided nicely with all the jitters about the coming apocalypse. Video games like Resident Evil, comic books like The Walking Dead, books like World War Z and films like 28 Days Later (not technically about zombies but it follows the same route) reinvigorated and amped up the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse is so prevalent in pop culture that even the CDC put out  a comic book detailing how they would deal with such an event. Zombies are perfect metaphors for the chaos and decay that will follow the fall of civilization as humans are displaced as the apex predators. Also these stories are useful for illustrating how we would behave during the downfall of society. Will we return to our savage ways? Will we use our pluck and ingenuity to survive? How much stress can we withstand before we break down completely? And how will we find that perfect Twinkie? (Note: see Zombieland for more on that last question.)

Monsters, Etc.

Humanity has always feared monsters as seen in various mythologies. This morbid fascination continued well into modern times with countless books, stories and movies about monsters both large and small terrorizing the world. An often used motif is that of an ancient, slumbering giant that is awoken by modern humans and then wrecks destruction across the world. Godzilla is an excellent example and best personifies the Japanese kaiju films. But Godzilla had predecessors that need to be mentioned. One of the earliest modern imprisoned monsters is the famous Cthulhu first written about in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of The Cthulhu”.  An ancient entity described as part human, part dragon and part octopus, the Cthulhu had a cult that wanted to unleash the giant monster onto our world. This entity has been alluded to in other works by Lovecraft.

In film, the very first giant monster to be unleashed was the fictional rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn”, the rhedosaurus was a dinosaur woken up by a nuclear blast and thus threatened the world not just with its destructive path but by its radioactive emissions. Destructive monsters have since plagued the silver screen with the Japanese kaiju films and American works like Q, Gremlins, John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness, Reign Of Fire, Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods and the upcoming Pacific Rim. In these films, the giants were mysterious and awakened inadvertently by humanity. Once unleashed they outmatched our military might and upended civilization as they destroyed cities and killed many people. Often entire cities and famous landscapes are decimated as seen in Cloverfield. And sometimes it was shown that the monsters won as the misshapen horrors from In The Mouth Of Madness  or the dragons in Reign Of Fire overran the world.

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Nine

As intriguing as it is to conjure up many doomsday scenarios, one common worry is the likelihood of them. But one scenario is especially disconcerting because it’s entirely plausible and based on recent events all too likely. What is it? What is the greatest threat? Why us, of course, and it need not be anything exotic, all the ingredients for an apocalypse are right here.

Doomsday Scenario No. 4: Our Own Worst Enemy

Take a pick, there are so many mundane yet deadly ways to bring about our downfall. The result may not necessarily mean humanity’s extinction or the end of the world but our way of life, our society, order itself can easily topple due to the following:

Social Unrest & Despots

Look around the news and see all the upheavals and strife throughout the world. The Middle East as always seems to be on the precipice of Armageddon with all the saber rattling, riots and terrorist attacks. Here in the West we think we’re somewhat inoculated from all that anarchy. But it’s always there. In the U.S. there is brewing antagonism between those on the left and right. It is a powder keg that isn’t going away. All it takes is for some protestor or anarchist or an overwhelmed officer or citizen to light the fuse. Back in the 1960s the controversial Vietnam War nearly led to a civil war in the U.S. In fact, throughout U.S. history there have been many tenuous moments with the worst being the Civil War. The country and others will always be dealing with keeping order. In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine there was a two-part episode “Past Tense” where Ben Sisko accidently time travels to the 2020s and takes part in the social movement called the Bell Riots. It’s stated in those episodes that the aftermath of that deadly period of time led to positive societal changes and ultimately the founding of the Federation.

Though social discourse can lead to positive changes, other times it can usher in dark historic chapters. Sad examples of that includes Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda where evil despots and their minions rose to power and unleashed horrendous genocides against others.

In science fiction, there are countless novels and films dealing with future dictators coming to power and creating totalitarian societies. One of the more famous sci-fi dictators is Khan from Star Trek, but the original show often made references to future human despots named Krotus and Lee Kuan. The most famous dictatorships is in George Orwell’s 1984, where citizens live under perpetual surveillance and paranoia. In Allen Steele’s Coyote novels, North America is ruled in the late 21st century by an extreme right-wing government and later by a left-wing power. Both of which spurred the migration to the habitable moon Coyote. The popular book and film The Hunger Games details the totalitarian country Panem, which arose from the ashes of the U.S. sometime in the future. In The Handmaid’s Tale, a theocratic dictatorship rules what was once the U.S. and persecutes its citizens. Another instance of harsh theocratic rule comes in Octavia Butler’s Parable Of The Sower where non-Christians are placed in re-education camps in a North America withered by poverty and scarce resources.

Scarce Resources

One underlying cause of war and societal stress boils down to resources. Right now, energy is the primary resource that is driving and hampering our civilization. There is the issue of oil and finding a viable alternative. The problem with oil is that it is becoming scarce and contributes to global warming. Until a successful alternative is found, we’re stuck with it. The Persian Gulf War was fought because Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait and threat to Saudi Arabia would’ve affected oil production and global economies.

There is a special that often runs on the National Geographic channel called Aftermath: When The Oil Runs Out that explores what would happen if that event occurred. Basically, civilization is turned upside down as martial law then conflicts and famine strike the world.  In the Road Warrior, major battles are fought between factions over dwindling gasoline supplies.

But energy isn’t the only resource to fight over. There is food, land, and raw materials. Native Americans were driven off their ancestral lands by Americans in order to exploit the riches found in those lands. Avatar was of course a metaphor for what happened with the Native Americans. However, a now plentiful resource is on its way to becoming scarce and tomorrow’s most sought after commodity: water. Many predict that wars will be fought in the near future over dwindling water supplies. Cameron Stracher’s book The Water Wars depicts a future where the scarcity of fresh water decimates society.

Economic Meltdown

The U.S. is in the grip of Great Recession while Europe is facing an economic collapse. This is a genuine cause for alarm since the specter of an economically devastated nation will have a cascading effect. Just look at the Great Depression to get an idea of what will happen. Mass migration, social strife, riots, overwhelmed communities, the list goes on. And it’s a prime opportunity for radicals and dictators to gain power. Basically chaos will reign unhindered. Many sci-fi works like the TV mini-series The Fire Next Time predict that economic collapse will come from extraordinary events, with The Fire Next Time it was global warming. In the TV show Dark Angel, the U.S. was in the midst of a crippling depression caused years before by an EMP detonation. While those factors will indeed destroy economies, mundane events like the current housing crises can just as easily disrupt our global economy.

In Norman Spinrad’s novel Russian Spring, America is a nation in economic decline while Russia is experiencing an economic renaissance and has become the de facto super power in the world. The consequence is that some of the main American characters wound up leaving the U.S. for better opportunities abroad.

On the other hand, there is a fear that corporations will dominate our governments. Many would say that has happened already. Transnational corporations control the world in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and this concept was seen in the film Rollerball. If  governments give up sovereignty to companies, what would happen to our rights?

State Of War

The idea of world peace is a noble one, but no matter how many times it seems to be on the horizon, our dark side emerges. Today many are rightfully concerned by the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and a military response. It’s believed this could cause World War III. But the Middle East isn’t the only tinderbox to potentially ignite a Third World War. One could easily begin in Asia as China gains more power. Already there are new tensions between China and Japan. Then there is the issue of Taiwan, the U.S. is committed to protecting it from China. Plus, look at North Korea, the people there live in complete despair yet seem all too eager to die for their insane leaders.

The fictional Oceania in 1984 always seemed to be in some state of war as its citizens were constantly whipped up into a war fervor over that country’s rivals. H.G. Wells novel The Shape Of Things To Come, showcases a world under the grip of a decades-long, alternate account of World War II that lasted much longer than in real life. Eventually civilization collapses and is reformed under a so-called benign dictatorship that brings order.

Conclusion

The above are just some issues that our society faces. Humanity needs to undergo a fundamental change to purge dark impulses. Perhaps an evolutionary step is needed where it becomes ingrained not to give in to our hatred and fear. That will take a very long time and much more misery. Maybe a cataclysmic event will do it, which is what happened with the Vulcan culture in Star Trek. The Vulcans are renowned for their peaceful ways but only true fans know that once they were a barbaric race that nearly killed themselves off with nuclear wars. Only by turning to a new belief system, in their case logic, did they save themselves.

Looking back at history, it’s apparent that society is always straddling between order and peace and war and chaos. The fact that we’re aware of our faults and are trying to fight them is a reason to hope for a better tomorrow.

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Eight

Ever since humans looked up to space and its vastness, it was easy to imagine possible dangers coming from above. And they had good reason because Earth has dealt with cosmic threats ever since its creation. Whether by meteors, gamma ray bursts or wandering black holes, the possibility of our destruction coming from outer space is unfortunately a very likely scenario.

Doomsday Scenario No. 5: Cosmic Threats

We as people cower and fret over major disasters that come our way. But trying to imagine how we would face certain extinction from astronomical events is difficult. That is because in our recorded history we haven’t dealt with that kind of phenomenon. What is really frightening is that if we found out tomorrow that any one of these threats were to happen, there is very little that can be done to cope with it. Here are some of them:

Comets and Meteors: This scenario is probably the best known cosmic threat. Every school kid knows that about the theory that a comet or meteor struck Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Earth is constantly threatened by these celestial objects. In fact, meteors enter our atmosphere all the time. Luckily most are tiny and harmless and make great light shows. But all it takes is that one large rock or ice ball to wreck havoc. It happened most recently in Tunguska, Russia in 1908. Though no remains of the meteor or comet have ever been found, the destroyed forest stands as a stark reminder of how powerful the collisions can be.  Some notable sci-fi books about such impacts are Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Hammer Of God by Arthur C. Clarke and Moonfall by Jack McDevitt, which is a variant of the theme in that a comet destroys Earth’s moon and the lunar debris is what threatens our planet. For films, there is Deep Impact, Meteor and the much-maligned Michael Bay epic Armageddon. Even though there are efforts underway to catalog all the asteroids and comets in our vicinity and have an early warning system, a rogue rock or iceball can slip by our sensors. Oddly enough, thanks to our technology, this is one disaster that can in theory be prevented. Most now know that lobbing nukes at them won’t work, but if there is enough warning then it’s possible to use rockets or satellites to nudge the orbits of the threatening meteors and comets.

Cosmic Collisions: Some scientists believe that our moon was created from another planetary body colliding with Earth. This happened way before life emerged on Earth but if it were to happen today, it would be devastating. Life will not be able to recover. Our only hope as a species would be to do as the characters did in the book and film When Worlds Collide, build a spaceship to escape and settle elsewhere. In When Worlds Collide, the survivors were lucky that they found a habitable world to colonize. For us, our best bet is to head to Mars and try to terraform the planet.  Of course in these situations a lot depends on how much time and capability we have. In the film Melancholia there wasn’t anything that could be done to save humanity and the Earth when it collided with a rogue planet. One thing to note is that a near collision is enough to disrupt life on Earth by causing the world’s orbit to shift and radically altering our ecosystem.

Gamma Ray Bursts: This is caused by the death of a nearby star when the energy is released from the star’s poles. According to scientists this happens in our galaxy every day. If Earth were to be bombarded by these bursts the ozone layer would be depleted and all life would be subjected to lethal exposure to radiation. Thankfully the bursts are too far away to threaten us.  Scientists believe that any supernova occurring about 8,000 light years or closer to us would be a concern. Actually some scientists theorized that gamma ray bursts are responsible for the periodic mass extinctions in our planet’s prehistory. In the book Starfire by Charles Sheffield, our planet is threatened by the radiation unleashed when our closest solar neighbor Alpha Centauri undergoes a supernova. Of course, if our own star were to undergo a supernova, life on Earth would be wiped out. However, our sun still has a few billion years left before it decays. That is unless the sun undergoes that transformation by artificial means. but that would take technology way beyond what we have today.

Solar Storms: Our sun often ejects solar flares or radiation. Back before we became technologically advanced this phenomenon had little effect on us. We would (and still) get brilliant light shows a.k.a auroras in the skies. But today, the electromagnetic pulses (EMP) from a solar flare would fry our computers and machines’ circuits and render them useless. It’s unlikely our civilization would be able to rebuild circuitry and transformers fast enough to stave off a technological collapse. Knocking on wood, this hasn’t happened yet. The most powerful solar storm in the past 500 years happened in 1859 (a.k.a the Carrington Event) and resulted in auroras appearing as far south as the Caribbean. Our technology was in its infancy then and the only machinery affected were the telegraph systems in North America and Europe. Solar storms also pose a grave risk to manned spaceflight in that astronauts would be bombarded by lethal radiation during a solar storm. In the novel Aftermath by Charles Scheffield (which is the prequel to Starfire) Earth undergoes a severe EMP when Alpha Centauri undergoes a supernova. The electronics worldwide are fried and society has to cope with the sudden loss of power and prevent a return to the Dark Ages.

Traveling Black Holes: It’s not likely to happen in our lifetime or even centuries from now, but it is a danger to regard. Scientists believe that our galaxy if filled with wandering black holes, many of them are supermassive black holes; in fact, they occupy the galaxy’s center. Their immense gravity fields would literally rip apart a solar system. If one were to pass by our solar system, its effect would be felt years before it actually arrived. Just on Earth, the orbit would be shifted and massive. By the time the black hole would siphon off our world atom by atom, all life would be long gone. In science fiction, there are many stories about creating artificial black holes and the consequences. This was shown in the last Star Trek film where the villain Nero created a black hole on the planet Vulcan and destroyed it. Later in the film, Nero tries to create a black hole on Earth to destroy it as well. So far, our world is safe from black holes and these other phenomenon. But they should serve as a drive for us to become a true space-faring civilization. This is the best way to guarantee that we would survive far into the future.