Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Looming Cosmic Crisis

Southwest Airlines is about to implement nonstop service from Austin to Philadelphia. Theoretically, if I were so inclined, I could make that journey in under 4 hours.

"So what?" you might ask.

Well, one hundred years ago such things were merely dreams and fantasies. A lot can happen in 100 years. And look at what has happened in 5,000 years! And that's only 50 one hundred year cycles. Five billion years is one million 5,000 year cycles.

And yet there are some scientists who apparently have nothing better to do with their time on this planet than lament the inevitable global warming extraordinaire and pondering the solution.
If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.

And while our planet may be consumed by the dying sun in 7.59 billion years, life will cease to exist in a mere 5 billion years as springtime heads for Neptune. In about a billion years our own oceans will begin making lobster dinner.
About a billion years from now, the Sun will be 10 percent brighter. Oceans on Earth will boil away. The Sun will run out of hydrogen fuel in its core about 5.5 billion years from now and start burning hydrogen in the surrounding layers. As a result, the core will shrink and the outer layers will rapidly expand as the Sun transforms itself into a red giant.

The heat from this death rattle will transform the solar system; it will briefly be springtime in the Kuiper Belt out beyond Neptune. Mercury and Venus will surely be swallowed, but the Earth’s fate has always been more uncertain.

So, one billion years is only 200,000 of those 5,000 year cycles. We'd better get busy on a solution.
Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”

Depressing? Really? Do these scientists read much about what's going on in the world in the here and now? Darfur anyone? Iraq?
Another option, Dr. Smith said, is to engage in some large-scale high-stakes engineering.

In the same way that space probes can get a trajectory boost by playing gravitational billiards with Venus or Jupiter to gain speed and get farther out in space, so the Earth could engineer regular encounters with a comet or asteroid, thus raising its orbit and getting farther from the Sun, according to a paper in 2001 by Don Korycansky and Gregory Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Fred Adams of the University of Michigan.

Dr. Laughlin said that when their paper first came out, they were praised by the radio host Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives for forward thinking.

Wow. I had no idea Rush Limbaugh was so out there with his "forward thinking." To hell with all our current problems; we need to be figuring out how to get off this future cinder block now! Time's a wastin.'

Meanwhile, speaking of fired up, roll me a fat one of whatever those scientists are having. Sounds like a ton of laughs.

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