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The End of the World?

By Anthony Stauffer

As depicted in the film 2012, Los Angeles, California breaks up and sinks due to a cataclysmic geologic pole shift of the Earths crust.

Earth, how could I end thee? Let me count the ways There are so many films out of Hollywood from the last decade which take on the plot of the end of the world. And, as human beings who call this planet home, these scenarios tend to hit us on a very personal level. After all, why would we want to see our home destroyed, or changed beyond recognition? Why would we want our precious species facing down possible extinction? I know I wouldnt I like my home, my world, and (for the most part) my species. However, the repeated destruction of Earth on the silver screen brings in the big bucks, and many awards, regardless of the many mechanisms used for its demise. As shown above in a still from the film 2012, the Earth suffers from the Pole Shift Hypothesis. But weve also seen the herald of destruction as a comet, an asteroid, global warming, nuclear war, aliens, and the ever-more-popular supervirus (zombie

flicks). The question is, how will the world end? We all want to know. Will it be anything like Hollywood depicts it, or it will be very much less dramatic or will it be worse than imagined?

The Science of Hollywood


2012 The basis behind this film is very much based on conjecture alone, with very little actual science portrayed. First, a massive solar flare from the Sun results in a significant rise in neutrino emissions. Now, if there were such a massive rise in the neutrino population that it would cause water to boil when it is several thousand feet below the Earths surface, wouldnt it reason that anything living on the surface that is 90% water would also be boiling internally? Second, this neutrino heating causes the temperature of Earths core to rise. And, somehow, because of this heating, it destabilizes the interface between the crust and the mantle, allowing the crust to float freely and move randomly and violently. For a wonderful review of the films lack of solid science, visit the following link:
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2009/11/13/in-2012-neutrinos-melt-earths-core-andother-disasters/.

The Sky is Falling For eons, ever since man first noticed comets and meteors, there has always been the thought of one impacting the Earth. In film, it had been tried many times, but it wasnt until 1998 when Hollywood technology provided the capability to show this type of demise realistically (in a theatrical sense, of course). Both Deep Impact and Armageddon tackled the subject with a definite sense of wanting to do the right thing, though Deep Impact got a lot more right (http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/movies/di2.html) than did Armageddon (http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/movies/armpitageddon.html ). The common errors to be found in both of these films is the fact that we would have a lot more time to react, a lot more people would know about it a lot sooner, and the ability to view the destruction would be very much diminished. And for those of you that are old enough to remember, there is always Night of the Comet. I wont even go into how wrong that movie was. Too Hot to Handle, Too Cold to Hold Try doing a Google search for climate change films. Most of them are documentaries and university films. Clicking on the link to Wikipedia, the list is just as short, with the two most well-known films being The Day After Tomorrow and Waterworld. Waterworld is a fantastic movie, and its not driven by science. Its major inaccuracy is the whole premise of the film, however; I know, sounds paradoxical. The premise is that global warming caused all polar ice to melt, north and south, and covered the entire planet in water, so much so that dry land has become a myth. There is not nearly enough water frozen at the poles to deluge the Earth in such a manner. After that, aside from some very far-fetched ideas, the film is quite exciting to watch.

As for The Day After Tomorrow, well, I had myself duped for quite a long time. I thought to myself, wow, this sounds quite plausible and realistic. Then I realized that I had no climatology degree and decided to do some research. Here is a great review of this films scientific meanderings: http://climatesight.org/2012/04/26/the-day-after-tomorrow-a-scientific-critique/. Weapons of Self-Destruction Hollywood has taken to its bosom mankinds inadvertent ability to destroy itself. PostApocalyptic worlds abound nowadays, and the most popular forms of the self-destruction of humanity seem to be the superviruses. Humans, obviously, have an innate desire to live as long as possible, because, well, were alive. Over the last few decades medicine, and the drugs associated with it, have never been more effective, or more numerous. Unfortunately, in order to develop some of these vaccines and viral agents, we need to beef up the original bacterium or virus on our own, through genetic manipulation, so that the counter-agent produced will be certain to kill the strain found naturally in the world. So, what happens to these superviruses? According to Hollywood, they somehow escape from the depths of the CDC and lead to a Zombie Apocalypse. The question is, could a biological organism actually live without a beating heart? Can there really be things such as zombies? Here is a good site for you to check out, if youre interested: http://www.cracked.com/article_15643_5-scientific-reasons-zombie-apocalypsecould-actually-happen.html. Even creepier is this article found in the one referenced above, where reanimation research is well underway: http://www.2000plus.mpg.de/e/90/article/.
Second most popular on this list is actually a combination of two separate ideas. The first one was looked at as a benign advancement in human technology, until a certain Mario Kassar film in 1984 changed all that. I refer, of course, to A.I., artificial intelligence. The idea that we could develop a machine that could think and act like a human being, in all its complexity and majesty, has been a driving force in scientific research for a very long time, since the advent of the idea of a robot in the 1960s. However, in 1984, a film was released in which the story featured a cyborg (i.e. a cybernetic organism) that traveled back in time from a future in which machines ruled the Earth because Skynet, a military version of the modern day internet, became so full of information that it became self-aware. Or, in the word of Johnny 5, Number 5 is alive! Skynet, though, was not a very nice machine consciousness; it saw humanity as a threat, and so coerced humanity into nuclear war. Could our World Wide Web become self-aware? Read for yourself: http://www.theage.com.au/technology/technology-news/aselfaware-internet-not-so-farfetched-20120921-26ah3.html.

Not-so-little and Not-so-green Men Finally, the end of the world, or the end of the world as we know it (thank you for that, R.E.M.), follows what would happen to humanity should extra-terrestrial beings appear at our doorstep. We all know the best of these films; Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Fourth Kind, etc. The alien question is one in which we have all asked ourselves. So, lets get to the heart of it right away. In reality, if an alien civilization is able to accomplish interstellar travel, than they are FAR more advanced than we are. In a utopian ideal, they would simply

come here for first contact and share their technology with us. Even as much as I like that idea, I would find that hard to believe. We are decades, if not a couple of centuries, from successful interstellar travel. If there is a civilization that is doing this, more than likely it is looking for two things, resources or a new home. The idea of interstellar federations of aliens, in my opinion, would not be the norm, unless the idea of pan-spermia is true. In this case, it will be a long time before we have first contact with an alien race. So that leaves aliens that are here to either take our home away from us, or rape our planet for all its worth. Either way, we are toast. Sure, in War of the Worlds the aliens werent intelligent enough inoculate themselves to the phages of our planet; and in Independence Day the aliens werent smart enough to better protect their immense reactors needed to power their primary weapon. In reality, I think those mistakes would be avoided, otherwise we, as human beings, would be threatened by an uprising of our closest kin in the world of consciousness and intelligence, primates. Professor Stephen Hawking, the Einstein of our time, put it best; watch here: http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/othershows/videos/stephen-hawkings-universe-fear-the-aliens.htm.

The Perils of the Real World


Humanity lives on the edge of a knife blade. There are so many things out there that threaten, if not our civilization as a whole, then at least a significant portion of it. The eastern seaboard of the United States is threatened by volcano in the Canary Islands and the tsunami it would produce. The threat of a nuclear war and the ensuing nuclear holocaust is still present, considering the state of the world today, and the number of nuclear weapons which exist in the world. Supervolcanos continue to receive a heightened level of awareness and fear throughout the world; no, Yellowstone is not the only one in the world. Then there is the threat of comets and asteroids and meteors, and the limited amount of funding for Near-Earth Object Collisions. And what about the large earthquakes that the Earth is subject to? And the horrendous energy levels of hurricanes, typhoons, and noreasters that we are seeing recently? We are a fragile species, living on the fragile skin of a strong and unimaginably powerful planet. So how will the world truly end? There is one ending that is guaranteed In about four billion years, when the Suns stores of hydrogen fuel are nearly spent, then the core of our home star will begin to contract. As this contraction progresses, helium, the product of the hydrogen fusion reaction which kept the Sun shining for so long, will begin to fuse. The temperature requirement for such a feat is enormous! The result, as the changing dynamics occur within the Sun, pressure and gravity will push and pull on each other to the point where the Sun will actually grow fat in order for the forces to equal out. It will become a Red Giant, expanding itself to the point where the present location of our orbit around the Sun will be engulfed. Now, whether the orbit of the Earth will be unaffected by the expansion of the Sun (doubtful), or if its orbit will expand with the Sun, the bottom line is that the orbit will not expand enough. The Earth will become, in the best case scenario, a cinder without an atmosphere, or life. Worst case?

The Earth will cease to exist. That is a guaranteed end to our illustrious home. What happens between now and then is up to us, and the luck of the draw