Space

Six cosmic catastrophes that could wipe out life on Earth

The ConversationIf you ask yourself what the biggest threat to human existence is you’d probably think of nuclear war, global warming or a large-scale pandemic disease. But assuming we can overcome such challenges, are we really safe?

Living on our blue little planet seems safe until you are aware of what lurks in space. The following cosmic disasters are just a few ways humanity could be severely endangered or even wiped out. Happy reading!

1. High energy solar flare

Our sun is not as peaceful a star as one might initially think. It creates strong magnetic fields that generate impressive sun spots, sometimes many times larger than Earth. It also ejects a stream of particles and radiation – the solar wind. If kept in check by Earth’s magnetic field, this wind can cause beautiful northern and southern lights. But when it becomes stronger, it can also influence radio communication or cause power outages.

The most powerful magnetic solar storm documented hit Earth in 1859. The incident, called the Carrington Event, caused huge interference with rather small scale electronic equipment. Such events must have happened several times in the past, too, with humans surviving.

But only in recent years have we become entirely dependent on electronic equipment. The truth is we would suffer greatly if we underestimate the dangers of a possible Carrington or even more powerful event. Even though this would not wipe out humanity instantly, it would represent an immense challenge. There would be no electricity, heating, air conditioning, GPS or internet – food and medicines would go bad.

2. Asteroid impact

We are now well aware of the dangers asteroids could pose to humanity – they are, after all, thought to have contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Recent research has made us aware of the large host of space rocks in our solar system that could pose danger.

Dangerous impact. Don Davis/NASA

We are at the starting point of envisaging and developing systems for protecting us against some of the smaller asteroids that could strike us. But against the bigger and rarer ones we are quite helpless. While they would not always destroy Earth or even make it uninhabitable, they could wipe out humanity by causing enormous tsunamis, fires and other natural disasters.

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