If you put a steamy cup of coffee in the refrigerator, it wouldn't immediately turn cold. Likewise, if the sun simply "turned off" (which is actually physically impossible), the Earth would stay warm—at least compared with the space surrounding it—for a few million years. But we surface dwellers would feel the chill much sooner than that.
Within a week, the average global surface temperature would drop below 0°F. In a year, it would dip to –100°. The top layers of the oceans would freeze over, but in an apocalyptic irony, that ice would insulate the deep water below and prevent the oceans from freezing solid for hundreds of thousands of years. Millions of years after that, our planet would reach a stable –400°, the temperature at which the heat radiating from the planet's core would equal the heat that the Earth radiates into space, explains David Stevenson, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology.
Although some microorganisms living in the Earth's crust would survive, the majority of life would enjoy only a brief post-sun existence. Photosynthesis would halt immediately, and most plants would die in a few weeks. Large trees, however, could survive for several decades, thanks to slow metabolism and substantial sugar stores. With the food chain's bottom tier knocked out, most animals would die off quickly, but scavengers picking over the dead remains could last until the cold killed them.
Humans could live in submarines in the deepest and warmest parts of the ocean, but a more attractive option might be nuclear- or geothermal-powered habitats. One good place to camp out: Iceland. The island nation already heats 87 percent of its homes using geothermal energy, and, says astronomy professor Eric Blackman of the University of Rochester, people could continue harnessing volcanic heat for hundreds of years.
Of course, the sun doesn't merely heat the Earth; it also keeps the planet in orbit. If its mass suddenly disappeared (this is equally impossible, by the way), the planet would fly off, like a ball swung on a string and suddenly let go.
This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Popular Science magazine.—Eds.
"Don't worry, you'll have time to post your goodbye selfies to Facebook."
i raised a tamagotchi! what did You do with your life?
If the sun were to disappear as in "*poof* - It's gone". It would take ~8 minutes for the earth to go dark, but we would know immediately that something was wrong because Earth would immediately fly out of orbit - like a slingshot. Gravity operates outside of space/time and is therefore instantaneous.
Hopefully, we'll rocket past the moon, rather than into it. GPS would immediately stop working, and at least 12 of those satellites would come crashing to Earth. In fact, every space satellite in our new trajectory would immediately come crashing down to Earth, the satellites on the far side of earth would be left behind, trailing in Earth's gravity.
Earthquakes would start moments later, due to the sudden gravitational shift. Some of our atmosphere will be lost, but much will remain. No worries, as most that atmosphere protected us from a sun that is no longer shining, or at least will stop shining within 7 minutes, 30 seconds...
Soon after we've gone dark, massive tidal waves will hit, because the oceans tides are no longer managed by the gravitational pull of the Moon. There will also likely be massive tsunami's as a result of the earthquakes.
Twitter would go nuts, and of course the New York Times would print "End of the World: Women and Minorities Hardest Hit"
If the suddenly the sun went out 'poof' as this article suggest, that thing which causes this event would surely have an effect at the same time on Earth, since we do reside within the atomosphere distance of the Sun and that same thing of which 'great power causes the sun to go poof' surely would destroy the Earth as well.
By the way, the sun has a hot, riotous atmosphere called "the corona" that reaches from the sun's surface, past Earth, all the way to Pluto and beyond. The corona is seldom seen, only during a total eclipse, but it is there.
To be more accurate, the Earth wouldn't immediately fly out if the sun lost its mass instantly; it would continue to orbit its current trajectory for about 8 minutes, as not even the effects of gravity move faster than light.
Neat article though, one of a few that's popped recently.
I don't see why our moon or satellites would suddenly stop being caught in our gravity well.... our speed wouldn't change, or change much, just our trajectory through space.
Immediate death is not in the sun's future since it is a star. Currently scientists have deduced that our sun is 4.5 billion years old and is about at its midlife. Like all stars, as the hydrogen fuel in the core is used up, the outer parts of the Sun will begin to expand. The Sun will turn from a yellow dwarf then into a red giant. By the time it is 10 billion years old it will have transitioned into a red giant and its atmosphere will stretch out to near where the Earth is located and will almost engulf it in its orbit. The outer atmosphere will eventually be puffed out in a gentle explosion and the Sun will be at the center of a planetary nebula.
The odds of humans creating a black hole on Earth is more likely than the sun suddenly poof is off. Do not fear the sun, but fear humanity as our future killer.
DCrane: "...as not even the effects of gravity move faster than light."
On the contrary: Gravity operates outside of space/time. Its effect is instantaneous - otherwise you would have celestial objects orbiting each other based upon where they 'used' to be. There is no 'frame dragging' when objects orbit each other, be they planets, stars, or galaxies.
Let's not forget how pretty it would be to see all the gasses in the atmosphere freeze and fall to earth like snow. Kinda tough to breath snow. All those troglodite Icelander survivalist-types living on geotherm would have to melt the snow just to breath.
Shutterpod: "I don't see why our moon or satellites would suddenly stop being caught in our gravity well."
A satellite is orbiting earth, and both are orbiting the Sun. If the Sun disappeared, Earth's trajectory would immediately change. Any object that is in the path of this new trajectory would suddenly fall into Earth's gravity and burn up or impact it. This includes the moon.
Dcrane: Your wrong. If the sun went poof the gravity goes poof and it's instantaneous as gravity is not constrained by the speed of light. It's either there or it's not. The Earth would then move in a straight line in the direction of travel it was last going the instant the gravity disappeared.
A quick Google search makes it clear why you all are having such a hard time reconciling your different interpretations of the question: you are actually answering slightly different questions, one from a Newtonian perspective, the other from a General Relativity perspective. I found the following summary the most elegant and concise w/o sacrificing accuracy, courtesy of UC Riverside:
"In the simple newtonian model, gravity propagates instantaneously: the force exerted by a massive object points directly toward that object's present position. For example, even though the Sun is 500 light seconds from the Earth, newtonian gravity describes a force on Earth directed towards the Sun's position "now," not its position 500 seconds ago. Putting a "light travel delay" (technically called "retardation") into newtonian gravity would make orbits unstable, leading to predictions that clearly contradict Solar System observations.
In general relativity, on the other hand, gravity propagates at the speed of light; that is, the motion of a massive object creates a distortion in the curvature of spacetime that moves outward at light speed. This might seem to contradict the Solar System observations described above, but remember that general relativity is conceptually very different from newtonian gravity, so a direct comparison is not so simple. Strictly speaking, gravity is not a "force" in general relativity, and a description in terms of speed and direction can be tricky. For weak fields, though, one can describe the theory in a sort of newtonian language. In that case, one finds that the "force" in GR is not quite central—it does not point directly towards the source of the gravitational field—and that it depends on velocity as well as position. The net result is that the effect of propagation delay is almost exactly cancelled, and general relativity very nearly reproduces the newtonian result."
In the case of a disappearing sun (whatever that even really means; it's hard to discuss physics problems when the heart of the question involves a word as grotesquely metaphysical and unclear as 'poof' but let's consider that 'poof'=the sun flies away from the solar system at some absurd speed close to the speed of light) the sun's velocity is not constant anymore, so you cannot continue to use the 'basically instantaneous' argument. So, you're both sorta kinda rightish: it would be 8 minutes before the Earth shot off into space, but during that 8 minutes it would be orbiting as normal in that it wouldn't 'lag' behind the sun.
*Another way of looking at your discrepancy is to remind you all that relativity does away with an ABSOLUTE frame of reference. It's impossible to discuss simultaneity; what's simultaneous somewhere in the universe will not be simultaneous elsewhere in the universe, no matter how much you try to argue against that fact with Newtonian, i.e. everyday, logic. To say the the Earth would fly off the exact moment the sun 'poofed' is meaningless, for no such objective moment exists. It is, however, still correct to say that gravity is basically instantaneous, because it does not depend on the concept of simultaneity - i.e. Earth seeing where the sun is exactly when the sun sees where the sun is.
I apologize for this gigantic comment, but it really is a very difficult concept to wrap our heads around. If you actually read this, I further apologize for what are certainly unclear parts and probably parts in which I mistyped and wrote something incorrectly. Perhaps we'd all just be better off with the trivial solution: it's physically impossible for the sun to ever just go 'poof' via some hypothetical evil Zeno and his magical death ray.
I suppose I should add a TLDR:
It would indeed take 8 minutes for the Earth to leave its orbit and fly away into space. This does not mean Earth experiences a frame delay and orbits an 8-minute old sun position; the two issues have subtle but pivotal differences.
@JRHelgeson: Sorry, your understanding of orbital mechanics is fundamentally flawed.
As DCranne correctly mentioned, Earth would neither be accelerated nor de-accelerated (who or what should do that?!?) but continue with the same speed as before (that's called inertia of mass and was defined by Newton). Only it would fly now in a straight line.
The same goes for all satellites. They would retain their direction and speed (aka angular momentum) in relation to the only center of gravity the still have -which is earth. So all lower earth orbits would basically be completely undisturbed.
Strictly speaking, this is valid for 'low' earth orbits only, such as the GPS satellites'. Very high orbits (in the range of 100.000 of km) actually will become more 'round' as the non-linear effects of the sun's gravity field fall away. Basically, the system goes from an uncalculatable three-body problem to a rather simple two-body one which has very nice orbits.
The rest of your description is equally wrong: atmosphere will not be lost (who should drain it?), the moon will still boringly rule our tides (he was not lost, see before). We will only loose the difference between regular tide and spring tide, which is just a small percentage.
Oh yes, and gravity *does* work at the speed of light, you might check wikipedia on 'gravity waves'.
Sorry JRHelgeson, the only thing that was correct in your post was -most probably- your name. Get back to physics 101 :-)
Of course, according to science, the sun would never just disappear into nothing, so his disappearing act would violate most conservation laws, and belongs to the realm of fantasy, instead of science. So, stating that all his gravitatory “field” would disappear instantly, and faster than light is no more fantasious that supposing that the sun itself would disappear with no trace.
But, if the sun just stopped existing, and that were the only violation to science, then:
1- The most accepted theory of gravity is Einstein’s General Relativity. It says that gravity moves at the speed of light, and that earth actually rotates not around sun, but nearly around the sun was 8 minutes in the past. Gravity doesn’t operate outside space/time, but is distorted space/time.
2- The Moon would continue rotating around Earth with little change. Both the Earth and Moon are on free fall around the sun, so the sun doesn’t affect much of the internal working of the system. Actually, the Moon moves a little faster and a little slower around earth orbit, depending on his distance to sun, but the effect is small. The Moon would not stop orbiting Earth, and Earth would not crash on the Moon, because any change over sun’s gravitatory field would have similar effects on both bodies.
Both the Moon and satellites would change his trajectory nearly exactly the same as Earth. For that reason most satellites would not change his orbit near Earth, except the ones linked to Earth-Sun lagrange points. GPS precision would be affected, but no satellite would have a significant change on his orbit, and none would crash on earth.
3- No significant earthquakes, and no atmosphere lost. The atmosphere would slowly cool itself, turning even more attached to Earth.
4- No massive changes on tides. No massive tidal waves. Sun’s tidal effect on Earth is too weak to have an important effect. It is minimum compared to moon tidal waves. No tsunamis at all.
lol at the understanding of physics soem people have ....
dissappearing sun is not impossible - imagine some unknown dimensional rift or alien tech that simply relocates sun in a blink of a eye.
While nature wont survive - humans will, at least a portion of us.
We are evolved enough to survive in freezing climate.
We can grow food withotu sunlight.
Real issue is our direction.. will we actually collide or pass another planet in solar system, big enough could pull us into orbit.
We will also hit the rubble/stone etc belt at the edge of solar system - that aswell will fly off into every direction.
lifestream brings up some interesting points. It's pretty unlikely that earth would hit any other planets directly. Perhaps eventually if we were close enough we would spiral towards each other. More likely though we would simply alter course significantly depending on how close we get. Just think of how many "earths" could fit in-between the surface of the earth and the moon alone.
As far as colliding with objects in the kuiper belt, we might only hit a few to none. These objects will ,for the most part, fly off into a trajectory tangential to their current orbit away from the center of the solar system. By the time we catch up the slower moving objects they will be greatly dispersed. They would have also had to take a trajectory extremely similar to that of the earth's.
Forwarding the clock quite a while. It would be interesting to see would happen to Jupiter. Being the largest body in the neighborhood, it could potentially after untold millennia gather enough mass to form fusion reactions.
What if..... lol could be anything with any kind of result for any reason.
What if Popsci disappeared? The planet would scratch there heads for about 10 seconds, wondering, why the hell didn't this happen sooner? A few days later a new and better science website would go up and Earth would be slightly happier. Lol. I mean, if were going to postulate the ridiculous then let's at least make it fun.
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That is impossible. Only try and realize the truth - there is no spoon."
"Gravity operates outside of space/time and is therefore instantaneous."
Classical mechanics assumes physical interactions propagate at infinite speed. In general relativity, which supersedes classic mechanics, gravity travels in waves at the speed of light. The speed of gravity has actually been measured experimentally, not with pinpoint accuracy, but within the ballpark of the speed of light.
We still use and teach classical mechanics because it is a good approximation of how objects with low mass and speed behave, and very few high school students have the math skills to tackle relativity. However, relativity is far a more accurate model of how objects in our universe behave.
The article is about the heat from the sun hypothetically disappearing.
The last paragraph about the mass of the sun being affected is really the cause of all the confusion. It's a bit of an unnecessary tangent, and might actually make for a good follow-up article.
Interesting to think about though.
I would have preferred that the author answered the original question, “If the sun went out,” which means that it stops shining, not that it’s “suddenly not there.” Since we’re talking “impossible scenarios,” it’s not necessary to bring in a whole set of other “realistic” circumstances that might be otherwise necessary.
So “How long could life on Earth survive” becomes “how long will man survive,” or even “when will humans start to die?” This is at least the question that would concern me. Our food sources will of course be directly affected, since plants will stop photosynthesizing immediately, and this will affect the supply of food “on hand,” which would be the thing that determines how long humans are able to live – the ambient temps being around zero, food preservation will not be a problem, but staying warm will. The food in our refrigerators will probably be eaten within a matter of days, and grocery stores will be hard pressed to keep the shelves stocked, certainly not with fruits and vegetables, other than what’s canned, but the inventory of even canned food would only last a few weeks at most. Fish would probably start dying soon too since the food chain in rivers/oceans would be disrupted by the end of photosynthesis, so even canned tuna/salmon would be used up within a few weeks. Assuming you stop eating at the point the sun stops shining – which would be the case for some of us – how long would it take to starve or freeze to death from that point? – that answers the question as to when humans will START dying.
We could keep livestock alive perhaps for a few months longer with reserves of feedstock supplies like hay and corn (although keeping entire barns warm would be a problem), then butcher these animals for food, which would be preserved by the ambient sub zero temps, which would provide a slightly longer term supply of food, heavy on the protein, but then that would be gone, say a few months after the sun stopped shining, at which point the human death rate would quickly accelerate, and at which point cannibalism would also be well underway. <b>With the crumbling infrastructure and fuel supply, more would die from freezing to death than starvation, at which point they would be eaten by people or other animals crazed by starvation.</b> I would estimate that at least 99.99 percent of humans would be dead within a year, with people who own livestock, and their friends, living longer, but they would have to manage their livestock and food for the livestock very carefully, and will probably use fire instead of electricity for cooking, starting about month 3 if not sooner, since the infrastructure will be collapsing around them, with difficulty in staying warm, in heating homes, except for those that have wood or coal fireplaces. So by the end of the second year after the sun stops shining (more or less), all humans will be dead, and most everything else, including big trees, contrary to what the author of the article suggests – because of the below zero temps. Certain strains of bacteria, the kind that live in the dirt, may live longer, perhaps indefinitely. No one would use volcanic heat, despite what astronomy professor Eric Blackman of the University of Rochester says. That’s just crazy optimism. People could harness volcanic heat for hundreds of years? That would never happen, the food supplies would be long gone!
One commenter, Lifestream, said “While nature won’t survive - humans will, at least a portion of us. We are evolved enough to survive in freezing climate. We can grow food without sunlight.” This isn’t just more of that crazy optimism, but contains several remarkable <b>epistemological fallacies. First</b>, humans are part of nature, not separate from it, so if nature won’t survive, neither, of course, will we. We are part of the food chain, not separate from it. The top of the food chain is actually the most vulnerable, since it relies on everything leading up to it. If any part of the food chain is compromised, we’re cooked. <b>Second</b>, humans are NOT evolved enough to survive in freezing climate. We are warm blooded, this is anathema to existence in sub zero temps. <b>Third</b>, he must be referring to artificial light, which requires electricity and a reliable power grid, which we will not have after a few months at best. More importantly, that technology is not in widespread use, and would not suddenly POP into widespread use if the sun stops shining, so the mere “existence” of that technology would not be our salvation, other than to be useful to some but within the time frames I described above. Lifestream goes on to say that the real issue is the path our planet takes. This and all the other argumentation about Newton and Einstein completely misses the point, because the real, and only, issue, is FOOD and STAYING WARM, both of which will be impossible almost immediately for some, and soon after for all.
One should be careful when talking about what's "physically impossible" in a magazine that is intended to be science-based with an engineering perspective.
While there is no technology that we are aware of which could "turn off" the heat and light from the sun in near-instantaneous fashion, it's not hard to visualize something highly improbable yet entirely consistent with the laws of physics. (i.e. not physically impossible).
Consider the notion of an alien race which seeks to take over an inhabited planet. One tactic that could be employed would be a modular form of a Dyson sphere, which could be moved into place with the panels edge-on (so that they aren't initially blocking any significant amount of heat/light from the Sun), and then all rotated to have their major planar surfaces facing towards the center of the Sun.
With a proper arrangement and timing, the net effect as seen from the Earth is that the Sun simply "turns off" in an incredibly short period of time (just long enough for each of the panels to rotate 90 degrees), and it stays off. From the perspective of the aliens doing it, they are now capturing close to 100% of the radiant energy of an entire star, and that's likely a really huge asset for them, for a variety of reasons.
So, yeah... the Sun could be made to "turn off" in a few moments for all practical purposes as far as the Earth is concerned. And if it did, figuring out how to stay warm might well be the least of our worries. =/
This is a great time to bring up my favorite end of the world scenario that nobody ever talks about: a rougue molecular cloud wandering into the Solar system. If it's a smallish one - maybe just a few times bigger than the heliosphere - we might not even see it coming until it was almost here. (not that we could do anything about it anyway) Wouldn't that have some of the effects of the Sun going out?
i'd start carving out as much knowledge as possible on stone blocks. ;)
After the earth floats through space for a few million years, maybe it could be captured by another solar system. ... maybe ... and then thaw out.
then maybe, our descendants could climb out of their artificial habitats and find the 'lost knowledge of an ancient civilization ...."
or it could be captured by a superearth and become its moon. then an emerging ET civilization, who is just starting to explore Space, could find it and wonder, "who left this behind? We are not alone after all." only to have it covered up by their government. ;)
Damn - that kinda sounds like a premise for a movie, Copyright, The Random Factor .. I called it. lol
Random factor, why would you carve out as much knowledge as possible on stone blocks? Are you doing this now? Don't you think a species knows what it needs to know to survive, after all the cave men survived without discovering advanced knowledge strategically placed for their discovery, and still prevailed. <I>Why does modern man think that his particular state of knowledge is in the least bit necessary from a survival standpoint to others in a different space-time</I>? A species evolves to exist in its environment through natural selection, not from finding “lost knowledge” of species that lost the evolution game. Did cockroaches find lost knowledge? The giant Sequoia? <B>Evolution favors life but this favoritism is certainly not species specific.</B> All species will eventually become extinct, this can not be compensated for through the discovery of “lost knowledge” of some long dead tribe, nor is there any evidence to suggest otherwise.
Things don't travel between solar systems, not even comets or asteroids, all of which originate within our own solar system. You do not find this even in science fiction.
The “need” for us to explore space is a distinctly human anomaly, possibly even a maladaptation, and not somehow inevitable in alien intelligence even in it’s highest forms. The movies, of course, suggest otherwise, but that’s just another human hang-up, that alien intelligence must be like us, and just another version of anthropomorphism.
How about fungi, do mushrooms need sunlight to grow? could we feed on them on a nuclear winter?
Julian, the most likely scenario I see (depending on the degree of organization present after everyone goes nuts, and things calm back down, and how long that takes) would be major industrial efforts focused on deep excavation and hermetic sealing of large modular structures (airlocks, etc).
Geothermal would be a decent stopgap while ramping up major production of LFTR modular nuclear plants.
Once you've got sufficient power online, and enough resources to create a self-sustaining underground mining operation, a civilization could theoretically thrive indefinitely underground without ever revisiting the surface again.
There would be more than enough time to haul down what was needed into protected areas from the surface, before falling temps made operation substantially more difficult. Emergency access afterward would be significantly less hazardous than an EVA from a space shuttle or space station, since gravity would be in effect, so thermal and thin-atmosphere considerations would be the only things that would act as impediments.
If the end-of-the-world wars were survived with a large enough population, with the political will to do it, there's nothing insurmountable about having the species survive on Earth indefinitely, despite no radiation from the Sun reaching the planet ever again. Tough but do-able.
The caveats in that previous paragraph are the much larger obstacles to overcome, in my opinion.
Vektor, so what you’re saying is that the sun is…irrelevant? Maybe we’d all be better off without it. Maybe we should devise a plan to turn off the sun, would you suggest that?
We need photosynthesis, without it we all die. It seems you don’t know much about life.
You say there "would be major industrial efforts focused on deep excavation and hermetic sealing of large modular structures (airlocks, etc)." Again, more science-fiction. You must think industries "pop up" like in some real-life Sim City. Do you think those involved in "industrial efforts" would be immune from freezing and starving? There wouldn't be time for infrastructure of any kind to be set up as everyone is dying. Nothing would be set up, instead, everything would be in a state of collapse.
"End of the world wars?" How could these things be going on with no light and no food and subzero temps? THERE’D BE NO LIGHT! I mean what are you, nuts? You are such a science fiction writer! If the sun stopped shining there would be widespread global panic and confusion, it would NOT be business as usual. People wouldn't go to work, they'd be shivering and starving in their homes, and we'd revert to cave men, then die. Read my large comment higher up for a dose of reality.
the question of recording info, isn't the why -- but the why not. ;)
you're absolutely right though, a civilization wouldn't need outside intervention to be successful.
they probably wouldnt even be able to decode it anyways.
But what if something intelligent found it? It might suddenly have some biiig questions.
What left these strange engravings behind? what do they mean?
I wish Giorgio A. Tsoukalos was on Popsci. .. I need someone to pop up and say...