Imagine the worst that could happen to us and the Earth. Maybe you think of a global catastrophe or pandemic diseases? Maybe it's nuclear destruction, world wars or global warming? As an astronomer, I have my own hypothetical favorite scenarios, with the Earth facing cosmic dangers from the depth of space. Although it is possible that not everyone will eliminate us, they definitely cause us a lot of damage and problems.
The top of my list is a high-energy solar rash. These events are high-energy explosions of our sun, which send large amounts of radiation and particles into space and, sometimes, to Earth. Our sun seems peaceful and harmless every day. However, if you look at the Sun safely, you can see the agitated surface and sunspots, many times larger than Earth, created by a huge magnetic field. You would also notice daily how the Sun throws material into space.
However powerful these events may be, our Earth has its own protective magnetic field that protects us from the worst effects. As a beautiful side effect, it also leads to some particles entering the upper atmosphere at the poles and causing the northern or southern lights. But these common outbursts are dwarfed by rare high-energy eruptions. We have previously documented the impact of only one of these, known as the Carrington event, on the very early development of our electrical technology in 1
Continuing, asteroids are probably the most common example of death from space. They are also significantly more noticeable; most likely as a result of Hollywood movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact and literature. The dangers of the impact of asteroids and the need to protect us from these time bombs are being promoted by annual events such as Asteroid Day.
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There is a large amount of space rocks in space, but the larger they are, the more rare they become and, fortunately, only the really large ones will cause global destruction. Even so, we must be aware of this danger, monitor the dangerous asteroids and develop a way to possibly divert those who are in the process of collision. DART is a NASA mission now in the preliminary design phase that will redirect a small asteroid moon around Didymos by simply hitting it, a first step to protect the Earth.
If you think these are the only things that threaten us on Earth, think again. The space is vast and hosts more possibilities. The nearby supernova could be a danger, but should be more than 50 light years away. And as far as we know, there is no candidate that fits with others.
Local gamma-ray bursts are more energetic bursts of supernova or binary stars. They can concentrate their energy in a narrow beam and damage our ozone layer. We can not predict when this will happen and if the direction of the beam would even hit us, but we know that it could be possible.
Or, the risk could come from just another star wandering its way around the Milky Way too close to our sun. It does not need to hit us or the Sun, it simply pushes some comets from our Oort cloud so that they then reach the inner solar system, increasing the chances of a comet hitting us. And, of course, there are even more exotic and unusual scenarios.
Before we now think of impending doom and crawl under a table, here are my last words on all this. These are cosmic dangers that are impossible to prevent or very difficult at least. It is more likely to be human disasters. All this shows us that we live on a planet and in an environment that is very special and deserves all our efforts to take care of it. In general, it is only a pale blue dot, a blue marble in the depth of a cold and hostile universe.
But as always, where there is danger there is hope and beauty. Without the rays and energy of our sun, life on Earth would be impossible. Without asteroids hitting the Earth, it is possible that we have not received the amount of water necessary to form life and we definitely would not have seen the timely death of the dinosaurs. So, instead of looking at the night sky and wondering what will kill us next, we must marvel at the depth of space, the wonders and the sublime nature of the universe. Get inspired by space. It offers future and meaning.
HuffPost UK Tech has launched HuffPost-Apocalypse, a project that aims to investigate what an Apocalypse would mean to humanity, how we can delay the end of the world, what the world will look like after We've left and what are the best options viable for the survival of anyone who remains. Join the conversation with #HuffPostApocalypse on Twitter. To read more of the series, visit our dedicated page.