Monday, December 07, 2009

It looks like we're all screwed

Just in case anyone doesn't realise it, we're all screwed.  Well, we're all screwed if we don't find, build or terraform a habitable location off this planet.  Now, assuming we don't fuck up the environment bad enough in the foreseeable future to cause massive changes in life on this planet as we know it, we don't have that long (relatively speaking) to get off this dump and move somewhere with a better view.

Humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) have existed on this planet for approximately 200,000 years.  The planet itself has been hanging around about 4.5 billion years - quite some time after the Big Bang at around 13.7 billion years ago.  The Sun will finally become a White Dwarf in about 7 billion years.

Now, that seems a fair way off, however things are a little more desperate than that - as the Sun continues to burn its Hydrogen core, it will collapse due to gravity which will cause it to heat up, eventually burning off its remaining Hydrogen, causing it to expand into a Red Giant, heating up further to burn off Helium resulting in its eventual collapse into a White Dwarf.

All that collapsing and expanding happens up until this 7 billion year mark.  We've only got about a billion years left before we likely have no oceans due to the Sun's impending death.  And that's not the worst of it - about half a billion years away, the Sun would have increased in intensity enough to warm the planet so much that the decrease in CO2 as the planet becomes more and more desert-like will make it difficult for the remaining plants to survive.  That's just half the time between now and when the oceans eventually evaporate into space.

So, we really have a fair bit less than half a billion years left on this planet.  Considering we, as a species, have been here for 200,000 years and we have, say 400,000,000 years left before things start getting a little warm and desolate, that's not a lot of time left in the overall scheme of things (after all, the Earth is approximately 4,500,000,000 years old - it is therefore about 90% of the way through its habitable lifespan).

Humans spent approximately 190,000 years trying to move things with difficulty until they invented the wheel.  Roughly another 700 years elapsed until we had the Industrial Revolution, and then another hundred and fifty odd years until we finally had a controlled, powered, sustained heavier than air flight.  Another 58 years or so and we finally put a man into Space in 1961, and then in November 2000, we had the first manned crew of the ISS (sure, Salyut 1 was officially the first space station, back in 1971).

So, for roughly 199,500 years, man didn't have machines that did much, then in the last 500 years we've put people permanently into Space, landed on the Moon and Mars, investigated many other bodies in our Solar System and really are doing quite well.  We've got 20 times the amount of time humans have existed before we need to leave this planet for a better place to live.  I'm pretty sure that if we survive our own willingness to kill each other for religious or other reasons, we should easily be able to survive as a race when our home planet is finally consumed by the Sun and spewed into the Solar System as various forms of ash.


The Outspoken Wookie

1 comment:

Hilton Travis said...

It looks like Scientific American has finally caught up with my post: :)