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The Universe looks like a pretty tranquil place to live, doesn’t it? During the day the sun shines steadily, and at night the heavens are reassuring and unchanging.

Dream on. The Universe is filled to the brim with dangerous, nasty things, all jostling for position to be the one to wipe us off the face of the planet. Happily for us, they’re all pretty unlikely—how many people do you know who have died by proton disintegration?—but if you wait long enough, one of them is bound to get us.

But which one?

Death by Asteroid

Of all the ways we might meet our untimely demise, getting wiped out by an asteroid is the most likely. Why? Because we sit in a cosmic shooting gallery, with 100 tons of material hitting us every day. The problem, though, occurs every few centuries when something big this way comes. If you could ask a dinosaur, I’d imagine they’d tell you to take this seriously.

And we do. The B612 Foundation is a collection of scientists dedicated to making sure we don’t end up with our bones in some future museum. Their advice: no nukes! Instead, slam a spacecraft head-on into a dangerous rock to move it in a hurry, then fine-tune it with another spacecraft by using its gravity to pull the rock into a safe path. It sounds like sci-fi, but models show this is in fact our best bet to save the Earth.

Death by Exploding Star

When a massive star ends its life, it does so with a bang: a supernova, which sends death sleeting across space in the form of high-energy radiation. Numerous studies indicate that a supernova would have to be closer than about 75 light years to do us any harm. The good news: no stars that close are capable of the deed. But in the past things were different; there’s evidence we got caught in a blast 2 to 3 million years ago. Of course, the fact that we’re still here means we survived. And it’ll be some time before another such event occurs. That’s good: there’s not a darn thing we could do about it anyway.

Death by Dying Sun

The sun is kinda important to us; without it, we’d freeze. But the sun is also middle-aged: At 4.5 billion years old, it’s already halfway to running out of fuel, swelling into a red giant, and cooking us to a fine crisp. Even long before then—in less than a billion years—it’ll warm up enough to raise our average temperature and cause a runaway greenhouse effect, boiling our oceans.

Happily, that’s a long time from now. I’ll let my great-great-great-great-great^nth grandchildren worry about it.

Death by Black Hole

Black holes are misunderstood. They don’t wander the galaxy looking for tasty snacks in the form of planets and stars; they orbit the Milky Way just like the hundreds of billions of other stars do. But it’s possible that one could wander too close to us. If it did, planetary orbits would be disrupted, causing the Earth to drop into the sun or be tossed out into deep space. It’s unlikely the black hole would swallow us whole, but given the alternatives it might be a blessing.

Note, though, that any object with lots of mass would be a problem, including normal everyday stars, and they are a lot more common! Given that it could be trillions of years or more before even that happens, we don’t have to worry too much about rogue black holes.

Death by Ennui

All good things must come to an end, and that includes our Universe itself. It’s 13 billion years old, but what will happen in a trillion years? A quintillion? A googol?

That’s a seriously long time from now. By then, all stars will be long dead, and (if modern quantum theory is right, and we’re pretty sure it is) even black holes will have evaporated. Not only that, but matter itself will have fallen apart: protons, long thought to be utterly stable, may disintegrate after about 10 ^39 years. So in that long distant future, the Universe may be nothing more than an ultra-thin soup of electrons and low-energy photons bumping around an eternal nothingness.

And while that’s inevitable, it’s so far in the future it makes the current age of the Universe seem like one beat of a mosquito’s wings. There are certainly more pressing needs to attend to.

My advice? Go outside, look up, enjoy the sun, the moon, and the stars. They may be there forever as far as any one of us is concerned… and forever is a long, long time.

Article by Popular Mechanics  (


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