Friday, January 04, 2008

How to destroy the Earth, part 1

In a series of articles (written by someone else) I will attempt to demonstrate that it is possible to destroy our home planet using the limits of our scientific knowledge.

But rest assured, readers. Its bloody difficult to do!

Destroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe.

You've seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You've heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.


The Earth is built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.

This is not a guide for wusses whose aim is merely to wipe out humanity. I (Sam Hughes) can in no way guarantee the complete extinction of the human race via any of these methods, real or imaginary. Humanity is wily and resourceful, and many of the methods outlined below will take many years to even become available, let alone implement, by which time mankind may well have spread to other planets; indeed, other star systems. If total human genocide is your ultimate goal, you are reading the wrong document. There are far more efficient ways of doing this, many which are available and feasible RIGHT NOW. Nor is this a guide for those wanting to annihilate everything from single-celled life upwards, render Earth uninhabitable or simply conquer it. These are trivial goals in comparison.

This is a guide for those who do not want the Earth to be there anymore.

Mission statement

For the purposes of what I hope to be a technically and scientifically accurate document, I will define our goal thus: by any means necessary, to change the Earth into something other than a planet or a dwarf planet.

The International Astronomical Union defines a planet as:

a celestial body that

1. is in orbit around the Sun
2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and
3. has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit

and a dwarf planet as:

a celestial body that

1. is in orbit around the Sun
2. has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape,
3. has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and
4. is not a satellite.

These definitions instantly suggest some very simple ways of stripping the Earth of its planethood, such as hurling it into interstellar space, moving it into orbit around a gas giant, or moving it into a solar orbit whose neighbourhood is not cleared (the main asteroid belt being the most obvious choice). A slightly less obvious method would be redefining "planet" not to include the Earth. Naturally, these methods (the latter of which is by far the most feasible method listed in this document) will not be considered to count - redefining something doesn't make it go away.

We are left, therefore, with the challenge of significantly altering the Earth's physical structure, or else reducing its mass such that it can maintain a shape which is not round. For example: blowing it up, turning it into a dust cloud, merging it with a larger body, et cetera.
Current Earth-Destruction Status

* Number of times the Earth has been destroyed: 0

Information courtesy of the International Earth-Destruction Advisory Board

Methods for destroying the Earth

To be listed here, a method must actually work. That is, according to current scientific understanding, it must be possible for the Earth to actually be destroyed by this method, however improbable or impractical it may be.

Methods are ranked in order of feasibility. Feasibility ratings are given out of ten - these are based primarily on my gut instinct and do not reflect actual mathematical probabilities in any way.

1. Annihilated by an equivalent quantity of antimatter

You will need: An entire planet Earth made from antimatter

Antimatter - the most explosive substance possible - can be manufactured in small quantities using any large particle accelerator, but this will take preposterous amounts of time to produce the required amounts. If you can create the appropriate machinery, it may be possible to find or scrape together an approximately Earth-sized chunk of rock and simply to "flip" it all through a fourth spacial dimension, turning it all to antimatter at once.

Method: Once you've generated your antimatter, probably in space, just launch it en masse towards Earth. The resulting release of energy (obeying Einstein's famous mass-energy equation, E=mc2) is equivalent to the amount the Sun outputs in some 89 million years. Alternatively, if your matter-flipping machinery is a little more flexible, turn half the Earth into antimatter (say, the Western Hemisphere) and watch the fireworks.

Earth's final resting place: When matter and antimatter collide, they completely annihilate each other, leaving nothing but energy. All that would be left of Earth is a scintillating flash of light expanding across space forever. This method is one of the most permanent and total on this list, as the very matter which makes up the Earth ceases to exist, making it impossible to even reassemble the planet afterwards.

Feasibility rating: 2/10. It IS possible to create antimatter, so, technically, this method IS possible. But since the proposed matter-to-antimatter flipping machine is probably complete science fiction, we're looking at stupid, stupid amounts of time to pull this off.

Comments: With a significantly smaller amount of antimatter, you can simply blow the Earth up - see later.


Alexander said...

Indeed. All my life I've regarded the nail biting - "We're destroying the planet" statement to be the absolute peak of arrogance because first of all it assumes a position that we own the earth and the earth is a poor pet we're looking after and have mistreated. Second, as this article shows, the earth has been here a long long long long long time and seen it all. It's been through the grinder and back several times and won't blink an eyelid if we dissapear from the story or not. Humanity talking in these terms is comparable to a flea fearing it is going to destroy a skyscraper. We're a parasite on earth (how flattering). Earth has awed me. Humbled me with nature's sheer power and that it is 'us' who are very fragile indeed. Some others 'literally' seem to think the "world revolves around them". We may screw up 'our' environment for living and in the process the environment that others species need to exist as they 'currently' are. But to say that we can ever destroy the planet is laughably over estimating our importance in the universe. So, I shall laugh....LOL LOL!!

Martin said...

Good reply! :)

Stay tuned. There are a few of these lol. Great fun and great science!