Tuesday, March 11, 2008
What's the point?
New York Times
March 11, 2008
Kissing the Earth Goodbye in About 7.59 Billion Years
In the end, there won’t even be fragments.
If nature is left to its own devices, about 7.59 billion years from now Earth will be dragged from its orbit by an engorged red Sun and spiral to a rapid vaporous death. That is the forecast according to new calculations by a pair of astronomers, Klaus-Peter Schroeder of the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Robert Connon Smith of the University of Sussex in England.
Their report, to be published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, is the latest and gloomiest installment yet in a long-running debate about the ultimate fate of our planet. Only last year, the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the faint burned-out cinder of a star in Pegasus had suggested that Earth could survive the Sun’s death.
Dr. Smith called the new result “a touch depressing” in a series of e-mail messages. But “looked at another way,” he added, “it is an incentive to do something about finding ways to leave our planet and colonize other areas in the galaxy.”
As for sentimental attachment to any of the geographic features we might have come to know and love, Dr. Smith said, “I should add that the Himalayas are a passing thought anyway. They didn’t even exist until India smashed into Asia less than 60 million years ago — the blink of an eye compared with the billions of years we are discussing.”
While he does not expect the argument to end, Dr. Smith said in an e-mail message that, if anything, in the new calculations he and Dr. Schroeder had underestimated the forces that would be dragging the Earth down toward the Sun.
“So,” he said, “I would be surprised if anyone were able to rescue the Earth again in a future paper.”
[Read the rest of this inspiring, clarifying story ... here.]
[For the Woody Allen fans out there: Does this remind you of the scene--in Annie Hall, I think--where the young Woody's mother is imploring him not to lose perspective. He has just learned that the universe will end. With the Coney Island roller coaster roaring outside, she implores him: "What's that to you?! Do your homework!"]