Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything)

Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything)
Planet Earth viewed from space with city lights in Europe. World with sunrise.

Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything) is the thought of future. The philosopher Toby Ord believes that our current historical moment, if we survive it, will be defined by our vulnerability to annihilation.  –An era he calls “The Precipice” in which humanity lives in the shadow of true existential uncertainty. Of countless generations of humanity, only in the last century –roughly one human lifespan, have we acquired the means to destroy ourselves.

This awareness permeates our culture and many have the sense that the end is nigh, that humanity has no future and perhaps doesn’t deserve one. Our news feeds, music, film, and literature reflect this vague atmosphere of impending apocalypse. Runaway climate change, mass extinction, nuclear war, unaligned artificial intelligence.

And yet while the risks to Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything) continued existence are real and in some cases growing, the truth is that these risks are far from insurmountable, and even now the long-term survival of humanity and our descendants remains a real possibility. The enormity of our potential can be viewed through two lenses; our physical potential to explore a vast and mysterious universe, and our mental potential to explore an equally vast and unfathomably valuable dimension of consciousness.

Scope on Other Planets

 Today we will explore both of these lenses; physical and mental, for the sake of shedding light on the surprising cosmic significance of our unique historical moment.

Could we really settle other planets? Could we ever traverse the vast gulfs between stars? Could our descendants truly come to inhabit deep time? We will consider the possibility that we do survive the precipice with our potential intact and what we and our descendants could eventually author on the cosmic stage. 

For the moment, taking humanity out of the equation of Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything), scientists predict earth is likely to be habitable for another 500 million to a billion years. In this time, among other changes, the moon’s gravitational pull will gradually stretch the length of an earth day, and continental drift will reshape the surface of the planet.

The occurrence of major natural cataclysms will accumulate in probability, such as the eruption of super volcanoes and Earth-asteroid collisions. These events, while devastating, are in fact quite unlikely to put a permanent end to Earth’s habitability for complex life. It is only after hundreds of millions of years that earth life faces certain existential risk from natural origins. The threat will eventually come from our star the sun. 

4.6 Billion Years

4.6 Billion Years old the Sun is about halfway through its lifespan. Throughout its life the Sun has grown steadily brighter and will continue to do so as it ages. 

Eventually this brightening effect will begin to pose serious challenges to any then-existing life on earth. Unchecked the increasing glare of the Sun will boil off Earth’s oceans, and with them all prospects for complex life will also quickly evaporate.

Our descendants however may be more than capable of averting this disaster. If they can find a way to block one tenth of the Sun’s incoming light,  perhaps even converting it into usable energy, we may be able to extend Earth’s habitability  for another billion years or more. 

Advanced Civilization on Apocalypses

For an advanced civilizations on Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything), with the abundant resources of our Solar System, such a feat is far from impossible.

And if successful, will effectively save all then existing life on Earth. Long before this time, our descendants may carry out other ambitious interventions — such as scrubbing our atmosphere of the pollutants of industrial civilization, re-engineering collapsed ecosystems, and resurrecting the species we drove prematurely to extinction.

A future civilization may also capture a significant amount of the total energy given out by the Sun. Massive solar collectors, placed in orbit around our star, could store and distribute its energy wherever we need it. 

Interventions by our descendants may significantly prolong earth’s habitability for life and yet eventually our continued survival will require us to move on from this planet, and indeed anywhere else we might have settled in the solar system. The threat, once again, will come from the Sun. 

Between four and six billion years

Between four and six billion years from now, our  star will enter the final stages of its life of Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything), in which it will dramatically grow in size eventually ballooning outwards beyond earth’s current orbit, finally exhausting its remaining energy and dying.

Long before this time our best hope will reside in our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri. Located approximately four light years from earth, Alpha Centauri is a triple star system three orbiting stars, the nearest of which is Proxima Centauri.

There is now evidence that this star is orbited by a roughly Earth-sized rocky planet located in its habitable zone. This planet is known as “Proxima B“. By this stage, we may not strictly need such a planet to establish a foothold in this system.

Perhaps by then our descendants will occupy habitats that transcend the need for a planet. And yet the existence of Proxima B is a stroke of fortune that may be of great value to our descendants.

But could we ever reach this distant world?

The possibility of true interstellar travel is often met with skepticism. But it should be pointed out that much of this skepticism is directed to what is possible in the relative short term — the next century or so. We’ve simply not yet developed the technology to transport ourselves between stars. 

And yet while this may prove to be very difficult and time consuming, there are in fact no known limits that make interstellar travel impossible, and should we survive this vulnerable moment in our history during Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything), we will have millions of years to plan such a voyage, and if necessary — thousands of attempts.

Proxima Centauri

If our descendants do arrive at Proxima Centauri, a settlement built from local resources could eventually establish a thriving new center of civilization. And we could also take the rest of life along with us, transporting the seeds and cells required to birth new biospheres on new worlds.

Future generations may have the means and desire to undertake this voyage millions of years before the Sun’s death forces our evacuation from the solar-system and Cosmic Apocalypses (The End of Everything).

Establishing an interstellar civilization would dramatically reduce our vulnerability to natural risks, and yet as we shall see, this is just the beginning of what conscious intelligent life might eventually author on the cosmic stage.

Hope in Cosmic Apocalypses

There are around 15 million stars in our local stellar neighborhood. Most of these, we now know, have orbiting planets and moons.

These stars are spread apart from each other at a roughly even distance of six light years; slightly further than our distance to Alpha Centauri. This means that should we successfully reach this neighboring star system, the entire galaxy would effectively open up for us.

Hundreds of billions of stars, and trillions of worlds. It has been calculated that if we traveled at just one percent of the speed of light, and upon arrival took a leisurely thousand years to establish each new settlement, we could colonize the entire Milky Way galaxy in just 100 million years, long before Earth is predicted to be uninhabitable, and a mere blink of the eye in cosmological time.

To put this into perspective, consider that this is less than a quarter of the amount of time that the humble horseshoe crab; one of  the oldest existing species of animal, has inhabited earth’s ocean floors. 100 million years from now the Sun will still be middle-aged, Earth may still be habitable, and the horseshoe crab may still be observing its yearly migrations. 

Our galaxy the Milky Way is home to many species of stars

Some of which will burn for trillions of years; thousands of times longer than the Sun.

There will also be millions of future generations of such stars, offering a near inexhaustible abundance of energy. If we can secure our existence  amid such cosmic scales of time, our current 21st century civilization will  appear astoundingly close to the very beginning of history and the very beginning of  knowledge.

A barely sprouted seed, tiny and vulnerable, yet carrying the potential of sowing a near limitless forest of life.


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